Image Nightclub owner Dennis Dean, who was informed last September that he would have to relocate his nightclub to make room for the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School’s new campus, alleged Thursday that New Haven officials have mishandled the eminent domain process, and his legal counsel said Dean intends to pursue legal action against the city.
Dean, who will hold a press conference with other Crown Street tenants today at 10 a.m. in his nightclub, said the city failed to adequately provide him and the other tenants with ample relocation assistance. Although city officials said they followed all necessary procedures to accommodate the tenants who will be displaced by the high school’s move, Dean said the city — which is obligated to offer relocation assistance as compensation for displacement by the right of eminent domain — should have done more.
“It’s about eminent domain abuse,” Dean said. “We don’t have a problem by being put out by a school. We have a problem with the city’s mishandling [of the process] and incompetency.”
Dean’s lawyer, Benson Snaider, said city officials intentionally withheld information necessary for the tenant to make an informed decision on whether to hold a public auction last week, during which some of Image’s property was sold off.
“We were misled,” Snaider said. “The day before the auction, they had the numbers that they were going to approve for the relocation assistance, but they did not disclose those numbers to us until a week after the auction. Had we known what the numbers were, we might not have gone forward with the auction.”
But New Haven School Construction Director Susan Weisselberg said the city hewed closely to standard eminent domain procedures.
“In acquiring the property, we followed a very public process,” Weisselberg said. “A lot of this, frankly, appears to be a dispute over dollars. It appears at this point there continues to be a difference of opinion on the value on the property … and we believe we are following all the appropriate procedures.”
Snaider said the final amount of money the city offered for relocation was far below what the nightclub had originally estimated. Assessments conducted by appraisers hired by Image put the reimbursement value at around $900,000, he said, but the city offered $100,000 after the public auction. Villa del Sol, a nearby restaurant whose management will also participate in the press conference, was offered $25,000 though its estimates put reimbursement value at $262,000, he said.
Weisselberg said relocation compensation for Image was calculated based on the club’s amount of personal property — defined as the value added to the building after the tenant moved in — as dictated by state law. The value of the real property, which includes the physical structure of the building itself, is reimbursed to the property owner, who is also represented by Snaider. Weisselberg said the difference in reimbursement values arrived at by the city and by Image may have resulted from a disagreement as to what constitutes personal property versus real property.
The city first approached tenants on Crown Street to express interest in buying property in August 2004. The city used eminent domain to acquire the building that houses Image, 230-232 Crown St., last September after Dean turned down a buyout offer.