Niagara Gazette

January 6, 2014

Court throws out GM lawsuit involving Lockport industrial park

Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The Town of Lockport Industrial Development Agency can continue the process of taking a piece of General Motors Corp. property via eminent domain in order to enlarge its industrial park, the State Supreme Court has ruled.

In a three-page decision released Dec. 27, the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court said GM failed to prove that the IDA’s attempt was “without foundation and baseless.” The auto giant claimed the agency’s seizure of the land wasn’t in the public’s best interest, calling such an idea “illusory because potential developers have the option to purchase the property from GM,” court documents said.

The IDA Board of Directors voted in April to use the town’s power of eminent domain to take 91 acres off Junction Road, which borders the industrial park. The plan was to expand the park, so to draw more business and development, the IDA said.

Since the creation of the 201-acre IDA Park, 30 businesses have been assisted, leading to $399 million in investment and the employment of 491 residents, according to the decision. Only 56 acres of vacant land were still available, with just 33 of that suitable for sale and development.

So town officials said under the provisions of General Municipal Law Section 858, subdivision 4, local industrial development agencies can acquire real property for economic development purposes through eminent domain. GM objected, filing the suit in May.

The court’s decision should end the court battles, said Morgan L. Jones Jr., the Lockport attorney representing the town IDA in the litigation. It’s highly unlikely GM has the grounds to appeal, Jones said.

And the next step is to negotiate a purchase price for the property, said David R. Kinyon, the IDA executive director. An appraisal of the land is expected soon.

In its suit, GM had claimed the IDA did not comply with state environmental review standards because the SEQRA study did not take into consideration the future development of the land. The court ruled that doesn’t matter, because there wasn’t a buyer or a specific plan in place when the review was done.

The IDA had filed court papers in October seeking access to the property in order to carry out additional environmental testing. Jones said regular access was granted to the IDA shortly thereafter. 

GM owns a total of about 120 acres, roughly bounded by Junction Road, the southern edge of the industrial park and the Lockport Energy Associates cogeneration power plant. The 91-acre piece of land lies west of the GM Components plant on Upper Mountain Road.

A GM spokesperson was unavailable to comment last week.