AMED condemns two properties

One owner vows to use lottery winnings to fight the authority

AMED on Monday voted to condemn a pair of occupied residential properties on Shand Avenue, between Reimer and Brumbaugh streets, so the authority can fully realize its ambitions for a proposed new headquarters complex on that block.

The respective properties are owned by a pair of brothers, one of whom vowed to fight the taking, using “every penny” of $100,000 he recently won in the lottery if necessary, and one of whom wants to negotiate.

Simply filing condemnation papers in Blair County Court will give AMED ownership of the properties, after which the remainder of the eminent domain proceedings are devoted mainly to determining “just compensation,” according to AMED solicitor Dan Stants and the eminent domain law itself.

AMED wants the properties, which are on the north end of the block, so it can comply with stormwater control requirements without following a parking lot design that would make it difficult for ambulance drivers to pull in and out of the garage, and because within five years AMED wants to build a garage in Lakemont where it can do ambulance maintenance in-house — to save money and because a shortage of mechanics in the area makes it hard to get vehicle maintenance appointments, said authority Executive Director Gary Watters.

AMED also plans to use one of the homes as a temporary Lakemont substation during much of the construction project, as the organization won’t be able to continue in its present temporary quarters at Lakemont Park after that park reopens, officials said.

The authority resorted to condemnation after negotiations with owners Victor and Thomas Bennett broke down, following one or both expressing what AMED regards as an “inflated” idea of the properties’ values, according to AMED Chairman Ray Hess.

After the filing of condemnation papers, the parties can negotiate a settlement, according to Stants.

If such negotiations fail, the cases would go to a “board of view,” which Blair County Court would probably need to appoint specifically for the case, although other counties have standing boards, Stants said.

Such boards generally receive appraisals from both sides, then rule on compensation, according to Stants.

Boards of view produce damage “schedules” that take into account “general damages, moving and removal expenses” and other “special damages” authorized by the law, the law states.

Either side can appeal the board of view’s decision to county court, according to the law.

Victor Bennett, who lives in his homestead on the southern-most property, doesn’t plan to cooperate.

“They’re not taking this house,” Victor said, standing on his porch Monday afternoon. He plans to fight it legally in “any way possible,” he said.

AMED backed away from negotiating with him after learning he had a contract with a sign company to install a billboard on his property for 20 years at $3,600 a year, Victor said.

“Before that, I was going to talk to them,” he said.

While Victor was fiery, his brother, Thomas, who rents the other house on Shand to Victor’s son, was composed, sitting in the office of the area business he operates.

Watters tried to “low ball” him, Thomas said.

“I said, ‘make me a fair offer,'” Thomas said.

Watters wasn’t forthcoming, and it was hard to get anything “definitive” from him, according to Thomas.

Thus, the negotiations “fizzled,” he said.

Still, Watters reticence to be open during negotiations was understandable, Thomas said.

It makes sense to resume negotiations now, to save both sides money, Thomas said, after learning that the law gives AMED possession after it files condemnation papers.

“I personally would accept a fair market offer,” Thomas stated.

Such an offer should take into account that the properties are zoned commercial, which would presumably increase their value, he said.

The offer on his brother’s property should also include what Victor would have received over the years from the billboard company, Thomas said.

AMED at first didn’t realize it would need the two properties when it embarked on planning for the Lakemont station, according to Watters.

It became evident only after the project “expanded,” Watters said

That expansion was partly triggered by the decision to relocate the organization’s headquarters from Sixth Avenue in the city to the Lakemont complex.

The acquisition of the Bennett properties will give AMED control of the entire block along Shand between Reimer and Brumbaugh streets.

It’s not certain when AMED will need to have access to the Bennett properties, according to officials.

That may depend on when the organization obtains stormwater permits, Watters said.

AMED hopes to advertise for bids on the Lakemont project this week, award construction contracts in April and break ground around the beginning of May, officials said.

An “action of ejectment” against one or both the Bennett properties would represent the “worst case,” Stants said.

“We would like for it to be smooth,” Hess said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.