The town of Weymouth is moving ahead with plans to seize part of Weymouth Landing by eminent domain, in an effort to rid the area of blighted storefronts and replace them with new buildings that include retail and residential units, town officials said.
The street and sidewalks of the Landing, which borders Braintree, are in the process of refurbishment funded through a $2.4 million grant from a state Public Works Economic Development Program that is set to wrap up construction by the end of June. The project is replacing sidewalks, adding trees and street lights, and moving utility lines underground.
But once completed, the new street lights will also illuminate the stark contrast between the clean walkways and the Landing’s eight empty storefronts, which are attracting vandals and transients and driving away business from the remaining stores, Weymouth Town Councilor Michael Molisse said.
The empty stores are owned by Nicholas Delegas, 52, of Lexington, who paid $1.45 million in 1999 for around 26,000 square feet of space along Commercial Street on about an acre, according to assessor records.
Weymouth officials don’t have faith Delegas will move forward with improving the property, which is why officials are exploring taking it by eminent domain, Molisse said.
“It’s a disgrace,” he said. “Nobody should be able to keep their property like that. We’ve worked hard to have ordinances in the town to prevent that, and this guy keeps getting away with it. It’s appalling.”
The town is investigating taking ownership of the land under Massachusetts laws that outline the criteria the state uses to identify blighted areas within communities, according to a letter sent in April to Mayor Susan Kay that was signed by six town councilors.
Delegas had proposed knocking down the stores and putting a Walgreens on the space, but some residents and politicians opposed the plan, citing concern for small businesses and questioning whether the town needed another large drug store. The national chain pulled out of the deal in March. In 2010, Delegas requested permission from the town’s Conservation Commission to demolish the buildings, but was turned down.
Delegas says he doesn’t understand why the town wants to seize the property.
He said he is willing to sell the land and buildings to the town for fair market value, which he estimates at $3 million, or wants to spend around $1.3 million to renovate the existing buildings.
A tear-down and rebuild would cost him $4 million and he can’t afford to do that without securing a national tenant such as a drug store or bank, he said.
“It’s very unusual the town is taking this route,” he said in a recent interview. “I don’t get where this is coming from.”
Delegas is up to date on the $40,000 a year in taxes he pays on the property, town officials said.
Molisse said Delegas is “punishing” the town for rejecting his Walgreens proposal. “Ever since then, he’s decided just to let the property go downhill. It’s a slap in the face to the town, what he’s doing,” he said. “I believe he’s directly doing it to punish the town for not letting the Walgreens on it.”
Delegas said he is not punishing the town — he needs a viable option.
“I’m not going to take a loss on it,” he said, blaming political maneuvering by Weymouth officials. “I’ve been crucified in this. Allow me to renovate it.”
Renovating would cost him less and allow him to bring in local tenants who pay around $20 a square foot, while a tear-down would require a business willing to pay upward of $30 a square foot for him to secure a construction loan and realize a profit, he said.
Braintree officials say they support Weymouth’s eminent domain proposal.
“We respect their desire to generate some activity,” Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan said. “They’re trying to gain some movement.”
He said he has met with Delegas to discuss ideas on what to do with the site, but “there’s two sides now that are polarized” against each other — the developer and Weymouth officials.
On the Braintree side of the Landing, several buildings are set to be torn down and replaced with new mixed-use buildings, he said.
Weymouth has contracted with consultants to see how quickly the eminent domain process could be concluded and the area improved, and how much it would cost, said Jim Clark, Weymouth’s planning director. “We’ve toyed around with different ideas. In the ideal world, we’d like to see mixed-use development,” he said.
Weymouth District 2 Councilor Thomas J. Lacey, who proposed the idea of eminent domain in April, said the town is investigating all options and ramifications.
“It could be costly, so let’s make sure we know what we’re getting into,” he said.
He said the town feels eminent domain might be its only option.
“It’s been sitting idle and in deplorable condition for over three years with nothing being done," Lacey said. “We have lost patience, and don’t have faith in him moving forward and doing any improvements.”