Delaware County IDA to seize land for Amphenol plant

Above: A 2001 aerial photo of a 6.45 acre property on Delaware Avenue in Sidney that may soon be seized by the Delaware County Industrial Development Agency in an eminent domain proceeding. Source: Delaware County Community Online Mapping Tool. To see a more recent photo of the site, view the location in Google Maps.

For months, high-tech manufacturer Amphenol has had its eye on a stretch of vacant land on Delaware Avenue in Sidney, where the company plans to build its new factory. Delaware County economic development officials, who desperately want Amphenol to stay in the region, have taken it upon themselves to acquire the land and offer it to Amphenol as a shovel-ready site.

But one landowner, after negotiating with county officials, has backed out of a deal with the county and refuses to sell. The county Industrial Development Agency (IDA) is now preparing to seize his land through eminent domain, along with a small piece of another parcel owned by K-Mart.

With over 1,000 employees at the Sidney plant, Amphenol is the largest employer in Delaware County. Last year, Amphenol's Sidney plant was hit with tens of millions of dollars' worth of damage during the floods from Tropical Storms Irene and Lee, just five years after a 2006 flood that caused heavy damage to the plant.

After the floods, Amphenol managers declared their intention to rebuild the plant elsewhere to avoid further flooding. Delaware County officials immediately began a campaign to keep the plant in the area – a campaign that ultimately earned Amphenol a $20 million incentive package from New York State to relocate to a new spot in Sidney.

County officials agreed to acquire four privately owned properties near the K-Mart in Sidney, out of the floodplain, for the Amphenol site. Two of the four property owners in the proposed area have agreed to sell, according to Glenn Nealis, executive director of the Delaware County IDA.

A third property, part of a larger parcel owned by K-Mart, has been agreed upon, but may be the subject of an eminent domain proceeding because K-Mart has not yet acted on the sale. Nealis expects the issue with the K-Mart property to be resolved.

But Nealis said that property owner Bendetto Borgia, who owns a 6.45-acre vacant lot in the area, has backed out of negotiations and refuses to speak with county officials.

Nealis said that after initially telling the county he would accept a price on the parcel of land that was over twice what he paid for it in 2006, Borgia abruptly backed out of the deal and ceased all communication with the county.

After weeks of no communication, Nealis said, the county's only option to move the project forward was to using eminent domain as a means of gaining the property and title transfer.

“Eminent domain is such a sensitive topic. Nobody likes to use it – including me,” Nealis said. “We tried everything. We had no alternative.”

Jim Thomson, the chairman of the Delaware County IDA, said despite a region-wide search, the agency was unable to find another suitable site for the Amphenol plant.

Thomson said that faced with the choice between exercising eminent domain powers and losing the county's largest employer, the IDA is choosing to act in the interest of the local economy.

“We don’t take it lightly. It's something we view as a last resort,” Thomson said. “The property in question is vacant land, owned by a non-resident property owner who by his own admission hardly uses it.”

Reached by telephone, Borgia said that he hopes to keep the property.

“I think the price is a little low,” Borgia said. “For that price, I might as well keep it.”

The county has held two public hearings on the issue, neither of which were attended by Borgia. IDA attorney Dan Spitzer is currently preparing to file a motion to have Borgia's property condemned. If the motion is filed, Spitzer said, a judge will schedule a hearing to determine whether the county's use for the property has a clear public benefit. If it does, he said, the IDA will have to pay the highest appraised value to the landowner, and will receive title to the property.

Although the land will be given to another private entity, Spitzer said he feels the county has a strong case that the seizure will benefit the public.

“Public use has always been defined very broadly in New York as including job creation,” he said. “In this case, public use is clearly shown.”

Nealis said he still hopes Borgia will realize that county officials “are serious” and the two sides can come to an agreement on the property.

“I tried to do everything I could to avoid it. I don’t like it, I didn’t want to do it,” Nealis said. “But there were 1,200 families on the line; I needed to weigh 1,200 against one.”