Portsmouth takes land by eminent domain over business owner's objections
PORTSMOUTH — The Portsmouth City Council voted Tuesday night to take land by eminent domain from businessman James Boyle, but not before some fireworks.
Boyle called the suggestion that the city exercise control of the land behind his car dealership — Toyota of Portsmouth — a "bad faith taking." He said the battle over the parcel has already cost millions in litigation that could have been spent on providing services to residents.
"I have paid $2.5 million. The city has spent more than $4 million in trying to take my property," Boyle said. "It’s business as usual in this casino."
Boyle, who purchased almost 14 acres at 150 Greenleaf Ave. in 2003, wants to build two more dealerships on the property.
City officials want to take a 4.6-acre portion of Boyle’s land to preserve a 1967 sewer line that serves residents on Lois Street and a portion of Middle Road.
A total of 31 homes and a condominium association with more than 100 units use the sewer system.
City officials say the land is comprised of wetlands and could be considered commercially worthless. But Boyle’s attorney, John Kuzinevich, said the land could still be developed.
Kuzinevich warned the council to stay away from using eminent domain to take the land.
"I caution the city council. You don’t know what you’re getting into here," Kuzinevich said. "There has been 12 years of litigation, and Mr. Boyle has won every step along the way."
Kuzinevich has been representing Boyle in Rockingham County Superior Court, where Judge William Delker ordered that either Portsmouth remove the sewer line, pay rent, or obtain easement rights by eminent domain.
To move the sewer line would cost $500,000. Boyle demanded a set rent price of $26,500 a month.
Deputy City Attorney Suzanne Woodland and Charles Bauer, who is representing Portsmouth in court, both spoke before the council prior to the vote.
Woodland explained that the sewer line is atypical because it is located on a berm in a naturally wet area. Most of the city’s lines are buried.
Councilor Brad Lown asked Woodland why the city needed to take 4.6 acres, instead of just where the berm is. Lown suggested the city take only the sewer line itself as an easement. Lown and Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine voted against the taking.
A trial scheduled for February in Rockingham County Superior Court to resolve land issues between Boyle and the city of Portsmouth will still go forward.