Catasauqua Council moves to take Front Street property
The Catasauqua Borough Council has authorized borough Solicitor Jeffrey Dimmich to implement the borough's eminent domain powers for a Front Street property.
At its meeting on May 4, the council passed an ordinance allowing Dimmich to take steps toward taking a building at 440 Front St., owned by Robert and Nancy Butow. The discussion touched on several topics.
In its basic assessment, the building has been appraised at a value of $65,000. According to Dimmich, the owners did not respond to requests for meetings.
Borough Manager Eugene Goldfeder indicated that the owners are not willing to take the offer presented.
Dimmich said he scheduled a meeting with the owners to see if an agreement can be reached.
The borough wants the property so it can extend Bridge Street onto the Iron Works development.
The solicitor said taking property for street improvements is a legitimate use of the borough's eminent domain powers, but having a legitimate reason does not mean the process is easy.
He was reluctant to commit to a time frame to get the legal process resolved.
"It could take up to two years and be expensive for both parties," he said.
In addition to delays by the owner, there could be other costs.
"We don't know if there is a business operating out of the building," Dimmich said. "Relocating a business will add additional costs and time."
Council President Vincent Smith in his remarks indicated the borough must pursue taking the property no matter what the cost.
Councilman Brian Bartholomew was less adamant. Bartholomew noted access to the property exists at a spur adopted by the borough a couple of years ago.
Although Bartholomew agreed access was not the best because the spur is not aligned with Bridge Street, it could be used for access, a role it served for decades when the industrial plant located there was active.
According to Bartholomew, the Front Street building is the oldest on the site and has some historical significance.
"I believe that we should make every effort to save the building," he said.
Janice Lathrop of Historical Catasauqua Preservation Association sided with Bartholomew. Councilwoman Debra Mellish added her support.
Bartholomew's underlying assumption is existing access provides a viable alternative to expensive litigation and project delays as well as giving the borough a bargaining chip in negotiations with the building owner. Bartholomew said his approach was better than the all-or-nothing approach in the eminent domain action.
According to Councilwoman Christine Weaver, the borough's architects are looking for ways to preserve the building because of its historical significance.
"We don't have any plans to talk about yet, but they understand what we are trying to do," she said.
Extending Bridge Street to create an intersection with Front Street would cut right through the building, leaving only a few walls standing.
After due consideration, council passed the ordinance to proceed with eminent domain by a vote of 5 to 1 with Bartholomew voting no. "All this does is give us the authority to take action. We don't need to proceed with eminent domain if we can reach an agreement. Once we start the process, it is expensive to back out," said Dimmich. Dimmich estimated the cost to stop the legal process at $75,000.
Dimmich will meet with the homeowners and report back to council on his expectations and possible alternatives.