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GM sues to block Lockport IDA plan for land seizure

LOCKPORT – General Motors has gone to court to try to prevent the Town of Lockport Industrial Development Agency from seizing 91 acres the automaker owns adjacent to the town industrial park.

GM Components Holdings filed suit May 15 in the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Rochester in an effort to derail the IDA’s efforts to use eminent domain powers to grab the land in order to enlarge the industrial park.

Daniel E. Seaman, the IDA’s attorney, said a scheduling order from the court required him to file an answer to GM’s paperwork by Friday, but oral argument in the case won’t be heard until the five-judge panel’s December term.

That means there won’t be a ruling until early 2014, but the delay doesn’t faze Seaman.

“It’s a process that we have to go through,” he said last week. “This is a long-range development plan for the IDA. It’s not abnormal for the Appellate Division to schedule these things fairly well out.”

“The IDA board had been deliberating this matter for two years,” IDA Executive Director David R. Kinyon said. The court’s schedule “is consistent with the IDA’s objectives at this point.”

The IDA announced in December that it intended to try to take most of GM’s vacant land between Junction Road and its auto parts plant, formerly known as Delphi Thermal Systems and before that as Harrison Radiator Division.

The IDA made the move after efforts to buy the property fell through. Both sides agree that it was GM’s insistence on restrictions on the land’s future that sank the deal.

The automaker wanted the town to assume all environmental responsibility for the property and turn that duty over to any future buyer.

GM’s court filing said it has sold several properties around the country with deed restrictions as part of the deals. But the IDA won’t stand for that because it can’t be sure what potential buyers will try to acquire land in the enlarged industrial park.

GM’s attorneys told the court that the lack of a definite buyer for the land shows there is no need for the town to take the land.

GM spokesman Robert E. Wheeler issued the following statement:

“GM has and continues to seek an equitable outcome on the sale of the involved property. At this point a sales agreement has not been achieved, therefore, documents were submitted to protect the interests of GM/GMCH Lockport. At this point GM has no further comments regarding this legal situation.”

The industrial park covers 201 acres, but because of transactions with businesses that have moved in over the years, only 56 acres are still available. The industrial park’s best-known tenant is Yahoo, which is operating one data center and planning to build another, which will include a customer service call center.

GM owns 120 acres along the park’s southern boundary, but some of it is believed by the town to be contaminated with industrial waste GM allegedly has dumped over the years. The IDA is trying to take only land it thinks is environmentally clean.

GM’s court papers say the company was leasing the land to a local farmer, Charles Laubacker, as recently as 1999. Two other farmers have inquired about it in the past two years, the filing said.