Supervisors drop quest for eminent domain plan

Mayfield Supervisor Rick Argotsinger, center, discusses eminent domain at the Fulton County Board of Supervisors meeting Monday at the County Office Building in Johnstown. Others left to right are: Northampton Supervisor James Groff, Gloversville 4th Ward Supervisor Charles Potter, and Johnstown 2nd Ward Supervisor Mike Kinowski. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — The Fulton County Board of Supervisors decided strongly Monday not to pursue eminent domain proceedings to obtain town of Johnstown land owned by the late Robert Bowe for the county’s Hales Mills Development Area project.

The board voted 17-0, with three absences, at the County Office Building to rescind a May 13 resolution.

That resolution had authorized the Fulton County Industrial Development Agency to seek eminent domain to secure two town of Johnstown parcels owned by Bowe, an Air Force veteran who passed away in May.

Claps and cheers broke out in the public section of the Supervisor’s Chambers from some citizens following Monday’s vote.

“I’ve been opposed to this for a year,” Northampton Supervisor James Groff said of eminent domain.

Fulton County Agricultural Development Agency founder Matt Ebert speaks on eminent domain at the Fulton County Board of Supervisors meeting Monday at the County Office Building in Johnstown. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

County officials have said the Hales Mills Development Area could include about 120 residential lots, mixed-use developments, townhouses and a two-mile walking trail. The 490-acre, proposed area includes four parcels of land owned by two property owners, with Bowe owning two of the county’s desired parcels.

Eminent domain is the right of a government to take private property for public use. That right legally is by virtue of the superior dominion of the sovereign power over all lands within its jurisdiction.

The county decision follows a boisterous June 4 IDA hearing at the Johnstown Town Hall, in which over half of the roughly 70 people attending spoke out against seeking Bowe’s property through eminent domain.

Action by county supervisors – as amended – also orders the IDA to “cease and desist” any future eminent domain proceedings against the Bowe estate, his heirs, or any future landholders of the Bowe property.

IDA Executive Director James Mraz said Monday – after the county vote – that he would recommend similar action today by his board to not pursue eminent domain.

Barbara Hemstreet speaks about eminent domain at the Fulton County Board of Supervisors meeting Monday at the County Office Building in Johnstown. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

He said he would still have the IDA board review public comments submitted at the hearing or in other ways.

“We’re going to go through the public comments,” Mraz said. “We stated at the public hearing that I was going to present them.”

Mraz also indicated action by the county doesn’t kill the Hales Mills Development Area project, it halts pursuit of eminent domain.

Bowe put his land on the market last summer but the county didn’t want to pay his price. He had a 69-acre parcel on the west side of Hales Mills Road Extension and an 89.5-acre parcel on the road’s east side. Officials have said the 69-acre parcel is ideal for creation of a town park, while the 89.5-acre parcel is ideal for residential housing, commercial and retail development. Bowe sought $5,000 per acre, while the county offered only $3,000 per acre.

Gloversville 6th Ward Supervisor Warren Greene, board vice chairman, read a statement from the board Monday prior to the formal vote. The statement noted that since the May 13 vote, Bowe passed away and the IDA hearing drew considerable backlash against pursuit of eminent domain.

“In respect to these two events, board members have expressed reservations about proceeding with eminent domain under these circumstances,” the statement read. “Therefore, we have prepared a resolution to rescind the decision to initiate eminent domain for consideration today.”

Mayfield Supervisor Rick Argotsinger commented that he hopes someone from the agricultural community “steps forward” to purchase the Bowe property to make it a “farm again.” He expressed displeasure with solar farms, however.

County Administrative Officer Jon Stead said the county hadn’t entertained eminent domain in the past 25 years until this situation. He also said one board can’t restrict another future board from taking action for “eternity.”

Even though the vote was 17-0, some supervisors imparted mixed feelings about the Bowe property.

“I don’t think we should close the door on this piece of property,” said Johnstown 4th Ward Supervisor William Waldron.

Johnstown 2nd Ward Supervisor Mike Kinowski agreed, stating: “It may become necessary in the future.”

During the public portion of the session, four people spoke, mostly thanking the board for rescinding its previous action.

Barbara Hemstreet criticized IDAs, stating: “It’s almost as though they have to make excuses for why they have to exist.”

She claimed there are “vacancies” in existing industrial parks the county should consider, and other land available in Fulton County for future projects.

“Let it be community driven,” Hemstreet said of development.

Karen Fagan of the town of Johnstown stated: “I think one thing is our town really does have character.”

“I think we can move in a direction together, totally,” she said.

Matt Ebert, founder of the new Fulton County Agricultural Development Agency, told the board “thank you so much” for rescinding the eminent domain proceeding for farmers and veterans. He said his group wants to spread “volunteerism and agricultural development” throughout the community. He said times are “really harsh” for farmers nowadays, and government needs to be more sympathetic.

“Soils on these lands are really beautiful and great,” Ebert said.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.

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