HERCULES -- The City Council took a first step this week toward securing by eminent domain a construction and maintenance easement needed to complete a long-stalled development, but the lawyer for the targeted property indicated a willingness to negotiate, leaving open the possibility of avoiding a court fight.
City officials have said they have made unreciprocated overtures for several months to the Bayside Homeowners Association, which owns an alley behind the half-finished, four-story Sycamore North residential-and-retail project.
The city took the lead in pursuing an easement after developer UC-BNB Partners LLC, which is under contract to take over and finish the city-owned project, said it had been stonewalled by Bayside, which at one time demanded that two floors of the building be lopped off before it would consider an easement.
Mike Hughes, Bayside's attorney, saw it differently. He told the council Tuesday that the terms of the easement, sought first by the defunct Hercules Redevelopment Agency in 2009, later by UC-BNB and most recently by the city, have been "a moving target."
"The fault for the delay can be debated," Hughes said.
The easement currently sought by the city is for use of the alley to finish construction and later for maintenance of the project, which UC-BNB has renamed Town Centrale; for emergency vehicle access; and for air rights for cornices that encroach on the air space above the alley.
The city also wants to modify the configuration of a curb to allow fire trucks to maneuver through the alley.
The city, following an appraisal, offered Bayside $65,300 for an easement. Bayside came back with a counteroffer late Aug. 16, too late to be included in the staff report accompanying the council agenda.
The counteroffer, based on an appraisal that Bayside commissioned, is $190,000 -- an amount that City Manager Steve Duran said was "not even worthy of a response."
The council unanimously approved a "resolution of necessity," mandated by law as a preliminary step to an eminent domain action, finding that the condemnation would alleviate blight and otherwise serve the public good. Once the city files an eminent domain action in Superior Court, the court could award the city the easement within 100 days, while contemplating the amount of just compensation.
Hughes agreed that Sycamore North, in its current state, constitutes blight, adding that the Bayside HOA accepts that the project should be finished and that he wants to minimize the effect on Bayside residents. To that end, he suggested that the city take responsibility for maintaining the easement space and fix any wear-and-tear from emergency vehicles, and to give assurances that Dumpsters behind the building not become nuisances.
Sycamore North was conceived in the last decade as a mostly low-income housing development to satisfy the affordable housing quota of the adjacent Bayside subdivision under state redevelopment rules in effect at the time. The Redevelopment Agency, which started out as developer of the approximately $70 million project, ran out of money halfway through construction.
Last year, Presidio Development Partners LLC of San Francisco, predecessor to UC-BNB, agreed to take over Sycamore North from the city for the nominal amount of $425,000 and finish it as an upscale rental complex with more than 140 apartments and about 10,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space.
Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at Twitter.com/tomlochner.