NANTICOKE — Officials got their chance Monday to explain the controversial Nantego revitalization project set for East Main Street.
And they revealed at least one tenant: the Luzerne County Transportation Authority.
Since eminent domain papers were filed — which some residents said caught them by surprise — the Nanticoke General Municipal Authority became the legal owner of the properties pending just compensation, which is required by the Fifth Amendment when private property is taken for public use, according to Nanticoke City solicitor Luke Moran.
“If the authority didn’t condemn those properties, PennDOT was going to,” said Moran during an authority meeting Monday. “Eminent domain was done with the focus on public improvements.”
He continued: “We approached some property owners and we realized that there were going to be quote on quote holdouts or property owners who were going to be resistant and drop anchor and want more money than what their properties were worth.
“If the property owners did that, it meant acquisition costs would be exceeded from a budgetary standpoint which means that we would be held hostage and the project would probably not come to fruition.”
Moran did note the city is prepared to offer the newly ousted owners a sum of money that correlates with the appraisal reports the authority received from a commissioned appraiser.
“The fair market value is close to the assessed values of Luzerne County,” he said. “The last time that (an assessment) was done is in 2009.”
The Nantego project, estimated at $21 million, would house residential and commercial sites and be built once the current buildings are demolished. Affordable senior living apartments would be available to citizens over 65 if they qualify for a certain voucher. But not all the apartments would be reserved for seniors.
Moran also tried to dismiss concerns the developer would receive tax-free status.
“Not to our knowledge,” he said. “The reason we are doing this is to bolster the tax rolls. No one has come to us about tax abatement.”
He added: “This is not talk. Shovels are to be in the ground. This project is actually going to happen.
“We believe that what’s best for the city is to invest dollars, improve the real estate, the condition, create jobs, bring commercial businesses here and attract family-sustaining jobs to create that economic public impact in a reverberated way. “
Moran does not believe there will be any more eminent domain actions by the city for Nantego.
“That’s it for the eminent domain. But there is a chance of eminent domain later for a different project,” he explained.
Reach Dan Stokes at 570-991-6389 or on Twitter @ByDanStokes