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Stateway Plaza owners challenge Watertown’s property assessment

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WATERTOWN — A day after the City Council set a deadline for the owners of Stateway Plaza to decide if they want to sell a portion of the property to the city for a connector road, the owners renewed a claim that the property is far overassessed.

Stateway Plaza Shopping Center, Montreal, filed state Supreme Court action Tuesday at the Jefferson County clerk’s office claiming that its properties at 1222 Arsenal St. are overassessed by a total of $2,269,500. The properties include the main shopping center as well as a six-acre parcel with two buildings on it to the northwest of the center.

According to court documents, the main center, including both the buildings and land, is assessed at a total of $5,386,000, while the property owners are asking that a judge reduce that value by $1,683,000. A second parcel, which includes one building that houses WWTI-TV 50 and a second building housing commercial space, is assessed at $1,860,000, while the plaza owners believe the assessed value should be lowered by $586,500.

The plaza owners have challenged the assessments each year since 2009, according to City Assessor Brian S. Phelps, with each of those challenges still pending in court. For the tax year 2013-14, the plaza owners also asked to have the assessment on a parcel that formerly housed a movie theater dropped from $939,200 to $658,700, but that parcel is not included in Tuesday’s assessment challenge as the property was sold in October to New Life Christian Church for $1.5 million.

The Montreal company also owns a parcel at 1250 Arsenal St., which is home to a Dunkin’ Donuts, but it is not challenging that assessment of $226,300.

The City Council wants to acquire a roughly 2-acre parcel from the plaza owners to construct a road — which would be known as Western Boulevard — connecting Arsenal Street through the Stateway Plaza parking lot to Gaffney Drive at the northern end.

Monday night, the council agreed that it would give Stateway Plaza’s owners, Ben Wygodny and Martin Wenger, both of Montreal, until June 6 to decide whether they will accept a $345,000 offer for the land needed to build the road. The council also agreed that if the owners did not accept the offer by that date, the city will start eminent domain proceedings. Eminent domain allows government to take private property provided it is for a public purpose and just compensation is paid.

In addition to achieving a longtime goal of easing traffic congestion concerns by building a link between Arsenal and Coffeen streets, the city has been told by Alexandria Bay developer Patrick M. Donegan that he believes he can attract an unidentified big-box retailer to an adjacent 18-acre site if the public road is built to provide access.

Mr. Donegan already has developed two hotels and multiple restaurants on land he owns immediately to the west of the Stateway Plaza property.

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