Monday, May 17, 2021

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Tentative Agreement for Madison Downtown Center Project Should Avoid Eminent Domain

Town officials and representatives from power company Eversource have finally reached a tentative agreement with a property owner on Boston Post Road that would provide a utility easement that had been holding up the final steps of the Downtown Center Project—and avoid the possibility of seizure by eminent doman.

The Downtown Center Project, originally conceived back in 2002, was intended to give Madison’s downtown a facelift, according to the town website, improving sidewalks, street lights, and adding many other aesthetic and practical improvements. Construction wasn’t started until 2015, and the project has seen a variety of roadblocks and hiccups, though a majority of the original goals have been accomplished at this point.

Negotiations with the owner of a building at 703 Boston Post Road have dragged on for at least 18 months. Part of the project involves taking down telephone poles along the road and replacing them with underground wires. Those wires, along with some other electrical equipment, must be placed on private property in a couple places, according to Assistant Town Engineer Rob Russo.

The town came to an agreement for an easement with another reluctant property owner in September, leaving the owner of 703 as the final holdout.

In April, the town authorized eminent domain proceedings to install the equipment without the property owner’s consent, citing a lack of communication by the owner and the drawn-out nature of the negotiations. First Selectman Tom Banisch (R) said at an Oct. 28 Board of Selectmen’s meeting that those proceedings were no longer necessary.

Former first selectman Filmore Mcpherson said in April that he once had a “gentleman’s agreement” with the property owner of 703 Boston Post Road, which the owner had not honored when McPherson’s term ended in 2015.

Banisch credited Russo with facilitating the breakthrough in the negotiations, which occurred at an Oct. 16 meeting, according to Russo.

There is no legally binding agreement yet, Russo told The Source, as all parties wait for updated documents to reflect some of the changes that were agreed upon, specifically a map that lays out where electrical wires and equipment will be placed.

Russo said that part of the hold-up was the specific placement of certain equipment, including a transformer pad and where potential additions would be placed. Moving these structures toward the back of the property, Russo said, will ensure that there will be no “encumbrances” to the property owner if additions are needed—something Russo said was unlikely.

Banisch said at the Oct. 28 meeting he thought it was lawyers for the property owners who held up the agreement. Once Russo spoke to the owners, Banisch said, everyone was able to find common ground.

Once the town, Eversource, and the property owner sign off on these revisions, Russo said, the town will be able to move forward, though he said it was unlikely at this point that the work will get done before spring.

The start of construction will be dependent on when the ground unfreezes, Russo said. Once underground wires can be installed, Eversource will be able to take down the poles, which is the goal of the project.

Eversource is removing the poles at “no cost” to the town, Banisch said back in September. He said at the Oct. 28 meeting that it would be “a few weeks” before all parties sign the agreement.

Jesse Williams covers Guilford and Madison for Zip06. Email at .

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