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August 14, 2014

City hopes to take title to transit center land

By Terry Oparka
C & G Staff Writer

The city hopes the legal squabbles with Grand Sakwa will nudge forward and a judge will issue an order to transfer the title of the land the Troy Transit Center sits on to the city of Troy soon.

The city of Troy filed eminent domain proceedings in Oakland County Circuit Court against Grand Sakwa July 10, after informal talks between Gary Sakwa and Troy Mayor Dane Slater stalled and Grand Sakwa did not accept the city’s offer of $1.05 million for the property.

Troy City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm said that Grand Sakwa had 21 days in which to challenge the case, after which time the city would ask Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Leo Bowman for an order to take title of the land.

Grigg Bluhm explained that the order, if Bowman signs it, would allow the city to work with Amtrak on a lease and with the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation to get the Troy Transit Center open for public use this fall.

That order was pending at press time and would require the city to pay Grand Sakwa $1.05 million, based on a recent appraisal, although based on the developer’s filings in court July 28, it seems likely they will ask for more compensation.

Those court documents stated that “the so-called good faith offer is completely frivolous and made in bad faith, and is indeed inconsistent with the city’s own representation to the federal government over four years ago (during the midst of the real estate recession) that the property had an estimated market value, as vacant land, of $1.5 million if it had to be acquired.”

Further, it states that “the so-called good faith offer is defective and in violation … in that it excludes and/or fails to consider other property interests and damages to which Grand Sakwa is entitled, including without limitation, the full value of the physical improvements on the property, such as utilities, parking lots, structures, etc., the value of the ingress/egress rights … use and occupancy charges for the period of time the city possessed the property under an unlawful claim.”

Grand Sakwa attorney Alan Greene could not be reached for comment.

Developer Grand Sakwa Properties donated 2.7 acres of the total 77-acre mixed-use commercial and residential property at Maple and Coolidge to the city of Troy on the condition that Troy would develop the land for use as a transportation center. The consent agreement — dated June 2, 2000 — required that the city fund the center within 10 years of the date of judgment, which the Appeals Court ruled never happened.

On Feb. 21, Bowman denied the city’s request for title of the land.

Grigg Bluhm explained that the judge dismissed the case, in which Troy filed eminent domain to take the property without consent of Grand Sakwa, in the interest of the public for the transit center, without prejudice, which allowed the city, with approval from the City Council, to file proceedings with the court at a later date.

The council unanimously authorized the city to tender Grand Sakwa an offer of $1.05 million and to move forward with eminent domain proceedings if the offer were rejected at the April 7 council meeting. The $1.05 million offer for the property would qualify for reimbursement from the Federal Transportation Administration. The Federal Rail Administration has approved funding of $8.4 million, not including the $1.05 million for the land.

City Engineer Steve Vandette said the construction work on the transit center was complete in late October. The transit center includes the 2,000-square-foot-building with a waiting area and public restrooms, an elevator, a 90-foot pedestrian bridge from the building to the tracks, a crash wall, enhancements to the Amtrak platform, slips for taxis and buses, and designated parking on the Troy side. 

The Amtrak lease was expected to cover maintenance costs, which were not available at press time.

The construction cost of the transit center, not including the $1.05 million, is $6.6 million.