City seeks court decision to acquire property

The property in dispute is part of YSU’s development plan.



YOUNGSTOWN — City hall has fired the opening salvo in its attempt to seize a small business property by eminent domain and demolish it for a street extension in conjunction with Youngstown State University’s new $34.3 million business school building.

The city filed a petition for appropriation in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court to take the Grenga Machine & Welding Co. property at 128 W. Rayen Ave., together with a declaration of its intention to take immediate possession of the site and enter the premises.

The action was filed Friday against Joseph Grenga, who bought the 102-year-old, 10,515-square-foot building for $95,800 in October 2001, and has rejected the city’s offer to buy the property for $205,000.

“We made an offer to Mr. Grenga that we feel is fair,” said Iris Torres-Guglucello, city law director. “Mr. Grenga has not accepted our offer, so we are proceeding with an appropriation action.”

“Their offer is inadequate,” Grenga said. “We’re not interested in selling.”

Torres-Guglucello explained the city’s rationale for eminent domain: “The city is planning on making a public improvement, building a public road, and Mr. Grenga has refused to sell his property. ... A public entity may use eminent domain proceedings to take private property for public use.”

The building, which serves as both a machine shop and storage facility, contains 5-ton machines and equipment, Grenga explained. “I have no place to take all that stuff.”

“They booted me around for two years, and I’m sick of it,” Grenga said, labeling the city’s treatment of him “antagonistic.”

Grenga said he plans to file a counterclaim in court and challenge the need for the street extension and that the city could end up in a costly multiyear legal battle.

“Anything’s possible,” Grenga said when asked about a potential settlement. “We’re not crazy. We’re not unreasonable, but they never negotiated, period.”

The city hopes the court will issue an order allowing it to take possession of the property, Torres-Guglucello said. After a hearing, the judge can decide to allow the city to take possession of the site and proceed with its plans while the issue of just compensation for the property is decided, the law director explained.

When it filed its petition, the city deposited $205,000 in escrow with the court and attached a city council resolution and ordinance in support of the acquisition. The county treasurer and auditor are also named as defendants in the city’s petition.

The city filed with the court a motion to have the property appraised by a panel of three appraisers, Gary L. Tharp on behalf of the city, an appraiser to be appointed by Grenga and one to be appointed by the auditor. Their appraisals would be introduced as evidence in a jury trial concerning the appropriate amount of compensation.

No court hearings have yet been scheduled in the case, assigned to Judge James C. Evans.

Grenga’s machine shop would be demolished to make way for a northward extension of Hazel Street in conjunction with the new business school building, for which YSU plans to break ground next fall as the centerpiece of the university’s centennial celebration. The new 105,900-square-foot building, to open in the fall of 2009, would be bounded by West Wood, North Phelps and North Hazel streets and West Rayen Avenue.

“YSU believes that the extension of Hazel Street is an integral part of the entire redevelopment plan for the Lincoln-Rayen-Wood area, and it is also an integral part of linking the new college of business facility with downtown Youngstown,” said Ron Cole, a university spokesman.

“They do not need that street,” countered Grenga, adding that YSU has or will soon acquire all the property it needs for the new business school.