Oxford Borough takes steps to acquire small parcels for parking garage site
By Steven Hoffman
Oxford Borough has been negotiating with Verizon Pennsylvania LLC for most of the year to purchase a small parcel owned by the telecommunications company that is on the parking lot where Oxford's parking garage and transportation center is going to be built.
At a public hearing on Dec. 11, Oxford Borough Council unanimously approved an ordinance that “directs the Borough Solicitor to take all actions to acquire…property interests based on estimated fair market value, including negotiating with the owners; accepting deeds of conveyance or deeds in lieu of condemnation; filing of Declarations of Taking and ancillary documents pursuant to eminent domain; and directing payment of estimated just compensation.”
Borough solicitor Stacey Fuller, an attorney with the firm of Gawthrop Greenwood, summarized the ordinance and implications, explaining that it was made necessary because the borough has not been able to finalize agreements to purchase several small parcels that will be necessary for the construction of the parking garage and transportation center.
The borough successfully reached an agreement with the National Penn Bank for much of the property that will be used as the site of the parking garage about two years ago, but negotiations have been taking place regarding the smaller parcels that comprise the parking lot that is currently used, largely, for public parking.
Verizon owns an 11,743 square-foot parcel on the lot, and Fuller explained that the difficulty hasn’t been in negotiating fair compensation for the parcel, but rather in getting the final agreement signed and executed as a result of additional layers of challenges that come with negotiating an agreement with a multinational telecommunications conglomerate. Borough officials thought the agreement was going to be finalized back in the summer, but no significant progress has been made recently.
Fuller said that she communicated to Verizon that the borough might need to pursue taking the property through eminent domain if the agreement isn’t finalized. The ordinance approved by borough council authorizes Fuller to file “declaration of taking” documents that could lead to the use of eminent domain. Fuller emphasized that the eminent domain would be applicable only to the small portion of the Verizon property, and will not interfere with the business itself.
Additionally, the ordinance also authorizes Fuller to take the actions necessary to secure a 665-foot parcel owned by the Oxford Area Sewer Authority as well as to extinguish certain easement interests owned by the Oxford Area Sewer Authority.
Council member John Thompson said that he feels that the borough worked very hard to get the agreement finalized before taking this step. However, the borough wants to proceed with the parking garage project—the hope is that the groundbreaking will take place in 2018—so doing what is necessary to acquire the smaller lots makes sense.
Thompson noted that the borough has received grant funding for the project and must keep it moving forward because there are guidelines for when the funding must be utilized by.
Fuller said that once the declaration of taking is filed, the borough will have site control and can take possession of the property 31 days later. Taking this step would allow the borough to notify the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) and the other sources of funding that the borough had acquired the properties necessary to allow the grant documents to be processed.
In other business at the Dec. 11 meeting:
Spotts, Stevens, and McCoy, a Reading, Pa.-based firm that handles engineering work for Oxford Borough will be marking its 60th year of having a business relationship with the borough in 2018.
David Bright from Spotts, Stevens, and McCoy, was at the Dec. 11 meeting to thank the borough for another successful year of working together.
“I truly enjoy working with the staff that we work with,” Bright said.