OSWEGO — The city intends to hire an outside attorney to pursue an eminent domain countersuit against the Oswego Yacht Club to ensure the club vacates its present home on what is now called the International Pier and come to terms regarding compensation for that forced move.
On Oct. 5, City Attorney Kevin Caraccioli requested the Administrative Services Committee put the issue before the full Common Council when it meets on Tuesday, Oct. 13. The committee approved the request with only Councilor Susan McBrearty abstaining.
“This is essentially in the nature of a countersuit,” Caraccioli explained to the committee. “The Yacht Club has sued us for breach of contract. I am proposing that we now unfortunately have to sue the Oswego Yacht Club to take back our own property, again, under eminent domain. I don’t do eminent domain. This is a very specialized area of the law.”
Caraccioli said there are only a handful of law firms and attorneys in central New York that do specialize in eminent domain law, Barclay Damon, of Syracuse, being one Caraccioli is familiar with and has confidence in.
“They have an excellent, one of the pre-eminent, eminent domain lawyers in all of the state. That team and their staff will be assisting the city of Oswego,” he said.
Caraccioli said the idea to countersue claiming eminent domain originated with the court.
“At a recent conference with the judge that’s been assigned to this matter in state Supreme Court,” Caraccioli said, “the collective opinion and position of the court was: the city wants to take back their property, it ought to consider bringing an eminent domain proceeding.”
Hiring an outside attorney to do so could cost the city up to $50,000, according to Caraccioli. He said the city has prepared for such a possibility.
“There is enough money in our self-insurance defense fund. There is a certain amount that has been set aside for, frankly, just these types of cases,” Caraccioli said.
It seems all that is really in question here is the amount of compensation to be paid the Yacht Club. According to Caraccioli, the club is not contending the city’s right to take back its own property.
“The only issue is the value of that lease that the Yacht Club holds with the city of Oswego,” Caraccioli said. “This is strictly going to be an issue of valuation.”
Caraccioli believes the Yacht Club’s lawsuit does not specify a monetary amount of compensation.
“They are asking the judge to calculate that,” he said.
The city intends to develop the International Pier as a public space and has been allotted $6.5 million of a larger $12 million state grant to do so. The Yacht Club’s present location in a building on that pier did not fit in with the city’s development plans, and so the city moved to terminate its lease of that building with the Yacht Club. In an attempt at conciliation, the city offered the Yacht Club the rent-free use of the McCrobie Building, their original home and only yards from the club’s present location within Wright’s Landing. The Yacht Club has refused that offer.
“They responded by their lack of response,” Caraccioli said in answer to a question on it from Councilor Plunkett. “That proposal has been rejected,” he said.
“There is some value to having a yacht club in your community,” Caraccioli said after the meeting. “Nobody doesn’t like the fact that a yacht club is here. In fact, it enhances the community. But we certainly don’t want to impede progress as well. And when you have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put 12-plus million dollars into your waterfront, and improve the property for generations to come, that weighs pretty heavily in the decision making. Unfortunately, the Yacht Club left us no other choice but to proceed this way.”
Although the intricacies of the city’s choice of a legal path here are somewhat confusing and may seem somewhat redundant, Caraccioli sees this path as the best path forward.
“I think a cleaner and clearer path to resolution is the eminent domain proceeding,” he said. “And that was the basis of my recommendation to the council tonight. That’s why we’re retaining special counsel. There are some nuances to that that I’m just not...I just don’t have the experience to make those arguments, and an eminent domain proceeding attorney does.”
It is virtually assured then, according to Caraccioli, that the Oswego Yacht Club will either be in a new location soon or be homeless.
“As soon as the city commences the legal action,” he said, “the act of taking the property back occurs.”
Numerous calls made to Oswego Yacht Club Commodore Phillip McBrearty for comment were not returned.