(Updated 3:02 p.m.) The owner of an auto repair shop in Newington said Thursday he will chain himself to his equipment before he allows the state to seize part of his family’s property in order to complete the New Britain-to-Hartford busway.
Mike Camillo, owner of West Hill Automotive, told reporters the state is using eminent domain to take part of the property upon which his business is located, and offering him far less than the land is worth. As a result, he said he will be forced to lay off three of his 10 employees.
“The price is unacceptable, what they’re offering us. It’s probably the most profitable part of our property. It’s a storage lot,” Camillo said. “Our business has shrunk in size because we’ve had to move equipment. Now we’re going to have to lay people off.”
The state broke ground on the 9.4 mile dedicated bus route last month and construction crews were working on property adjacent to Camillo’s auto shop. Despite the construction nearing his property, Camillo said he has resisted the Department of Transportation’s instructions to move equipment from the portion of his property the state wishes to take.
“They’ve told us to move. We’re not moving. This will be a fight. They come and move my equipment, I’ll be chained to it,” he said.
Part of Camillo’s problem is the state is not looking to take the entire property, which would allow him to relocate. Instead, it’s taking part of the land — the part that currently houses his storage lot — and leaving the rest. Camillo said he’s been offered $140,000 in exchange for the property.
“The property generates $210,000, just that corner, every year. In five years that’s a million dollars,” he said.
While Camillo contends he’s getting a raw deal from the state, Kevin Nursick, a spokesman for the Transportation Department, said they don’t have much leeway in what they offer folks for property acquisitions. The state is more or less constrained to a fair market value appraisal, which in this case happens to be $140,000.
“We don’t have the ability to flex much above or below that,” Nursick said. “We can’t low-ball people for their property to try and save the taxpayers money and we can’t high-ball these issues to make them go away. Because either way, someone gets cheated.”
That means the state can’t offer to take the entire property rather than just the one-ninth of an acre where Camillo’s storage is located.
Although property acquisitions aren’t always ideal — Nursick estimates about 10 percent of them are outside what the department considers a “friendly” acquisition — he said none of the state’s highways would be possible without them.
“When those were built you can bet there were property acquisitions,” he said. “We would have no transportation infrastructure if it weren’t for this process.”
Nursick said that in Camillo’s case the state offered the fair market value and received no counter offer. The issue will likely need to be resolved by a judge, he said.
But Camillo is hoping some coverage by news media will get state officials to back off their plans. He held a press conference at the auto shop with Republican Sen. Joseph Markley and Reps. Rob Sampson and Whit Betts, all of whom are opposed to the busway project. The lawmakers decried it as a waste of taxpayer dollars that was now threatening one of the state’s small businesses.
“Our governor says we’re open for business but we’ve got small businesses right here in our community that are existing and flourishing being negatively impacted by this project. I think it’s time to reconsider it and move on,” Sampson said.
Camillo, who hopes there is still time to stop the construction that is already under way, also blames Gov. Dannel P. Malloy for kick-starting a project that’s been on the state’s to do list for decades.
In a statement, Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker said that it is inaccurate to suggest that Malloy’s support for the busway detracts from his commitment to job creation.
“While we are certainly sensitive to the needs of any business that is facing adversity, the fact is that most of the Greater Hartford business community is behind this project,” Redeker said. “The construction of CTfastrak is going to create thousands of good-paying construction jobs and will provide some relief to the congestion along I-84.
“This innovative project will provide the backbone and impetus for new economic growth in the region, while at the same time, finally offering a solution to debilitating congestion on I-84,” Redeker said.