Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Resolution of Sorts

It appears Bethesda House will finally have a new home and the City Council won't need to resort to eminent domain to make it happen. That's good.

Unfortunately, the process was such that there are a lot of hurt feelings, suspicions and Schenectady's about to lose a longtime minority-owned business. That's not good.

Full disclosure: I served on the Bethesda House Board of Directors for several years. I resigned when it became apparent that the agency's priorities were in conflict with my role on the City Council, as chair of the Planning and Development Committee. I was also opposed to BH's plans to purchase -- at an exhorbitant price -- the old Sons of Italy property for its new facility. I was not one of those who didn't think BH belongs downtown; just the opposite -- Bethesda House serves a population that needs attention and that population is downtown. That's a fact.

But I digress. The city -- working with Metroplex -- has found a better site for Bethesda House and it seems like a go ... finally. The only apparent downside is that Fred Anderson's blacktop company, a longtime staple on State Street is being displaced. And, while all sides now agree on a price for Mr. Anderson's property (it will be combined with city-owned parcels to give Bethesda House what it needs), Mr. Anderson is bitter and plans to relocate out of Schenectady.

The whole process was played out against the backdrop of an eminent domain threat. I'm thankful eminent domain was not imposed. In fact, as a member of the Council, I held my breath every time the prospect of eminent domain was raised. Eminent domain is a convenient, legal mechanism to acquire property at a fair-market price. But it imposes that price on the property owner, even if that owner does not want to sell.

Eminent domain makes sense when a municipality needs to move forward with a public project that protects the health, safety and welfare of its citizens. Its use for other types of projects, frankly, makes me uncomfortable. The right to own property is part of the American dream. For Mr. Anderson, that dream nearly became a nightmare.

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