WATERTOWN — Developer P.J. Simao has warned economic development and town officials they could lose the east entrance to the Jefferson County Corporate Park in the wake of their decision to allow First Student’s new facility in it.
Michael E. Lundy’s plan to build a satellite facility for the Cincinnati-based school transportation services company in the outer Coffeen Street park was challenged by Mr. Simao, who argued that it violated the permitted uses established in the covenants for the park, would increase traffic congestion and lower the value of other park properties.
Despite Mr. Simao’s arguments, both the Town Planning Board and the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency approved the 4,800-square-foot structure to be built next to Penske Truck Leasing along with a parking area for up to 50 buses. Agency officials argued that it fell under the administrative or other professional-services category for permitted uses.
As another enterprise plans to set up shop in the corporate park, Mr. Simao’s attorney, Jan S. Kublick of McMahon, Kublick & Smith P.C., Syracuse, sent a letter Wednesday to the JCIDA, Town Supervisor Joel R. Bartlett and other town officials reminding them that the eastern access road to the park, County Route 196, remains the subject of ongoing litigation between Mr. Simao and the county. Mr. Kublick argues that the litigation may result in Mr. Simao reclaiming the land he sold to the county in 2007 for the road and reverting it to its original condition.
“My client believes strongly that the JCIDA and other agencies must be aware that the possibility exists that the (corporate) park entrance may revert to its original location and condition, and should take that eventuality into account on behalf of the present and future owners in the (corporate) park and the traveling public using Route 12F,” Mr. Kublick said in his letter.
The 11-year-old deal between the county and Mr. Simao involved a land swap in which the developer sold the county land across from Salmon Run Mall Road for the eastern entrance of the park and the county provided Mr. Simao with three adjacent parcels.
Mr. Simao was also required to demolish the existing structures on the property, the former Griff’s convenience store and the former SMX Transport Inc. building, remove three underground petroleum bulk storage tanks and remediate any soil contamination.
The county, however, took legal action against Mr. Simao in 2011 when he didn’t remove the tanks, pushing the county to hire workers to remove the tanks on its behalf. The county asked the judge to either order Mr. Simao to complete the remediation or rescind the sale agreement.
Mr. Simao completed the work, but also filed a $1.85 million countersuit citing several complaints. The developer argued that the county’s construction changed the grading of the land, which made his new parcels undevelopable. He also said part of the new road was built on land he owned west of the entrance. And he said the county didn’t provide him all the land that was agreed to in the 2007 deal until 2012.
The overall dispute has yet to reach a conclusion.
“When I agreed to this, this was supposed to work out for everyone,” Mr. Simao said Thursday. “In the end, the county never lived up to its end of the deal and still hasn’t to this day.”
The developer and his attorney argue that the county never properly notified the court that it no longer wished to rescind the original land swap, an offer Mr. Simao brought back to the table in 2013.
The county rejected Mr. Simao’s 2013 proposal, citing the loss of its new $1 million access road to the corporate park. Despite its rejection, both Mr. Simao and Mr. Kublick argue that the county didn’t amend the original paperwork to withdraw its original rescission proposition.
“Rescission is absolutely still on the table. The county never moved to amend the paperwork,” Mr. Simao said. “The county should have never spent the money to build the road to the park while litigation is” pending.
The county has remained adamant about keeping ownership of the land used to build County Route 196.
In a letter sent to Mr. Kublick in July of 2017, the attorney representing the county in the case, Mitchell J. Katz of of Menter, Rudin and Trivelpiece, P.C., said the county would withdraw its cause of action for rescission because “it would be, in my opinion, frivolous to pursue” after the county had already built the road.
County Attorney David J. Paulsen said he wasn’t aware of Mr. Simao’s latest claims, but reiterated the county’s desire to keep the land and County Route 196. The county still plans to pursue about $100,000 from Mr. Simao in court, money it provided to the developer for remediation it argued he failed to provide in full.
“I think that (Mr. Simao’s argument) is a red herring. I don’t think it’s one thing the court will consider. It’s simply one argument Mr. Simao has put out there to resolve (the dispute),” Mr. Paulsen said. “The issues the court has decided to bring to trial (have) been pretty well established, and that is not one of them.”
State Supreme Court Judge Hugh A. Gilbert ruled in 2016 that the county performed its obligations under the 2007 deal and would set a trial date to discuss possible damages owed to the county.
Last year, however, state Appellate Division, Fourth Department, reversed a number of stipulations from the 2016 decision. The appellate court determined that the county failed to transfer the property to Mr. Simao in a timely fashion and ruled that it did not properly provide evidence that County Route 196 did not encroach upon his land.
The county recently filed a motion to reargue the 2017 decision from the state appellate court.
Mr. Lundy hoped to break ground for the First Student facility, which will have a training area, offices and a small service area for minor repair work, as soon as the weather permitted.
Mr. Simao plans to take legal action against the planning board and JCIDA for allowing its construction in the park.