Whitehall is negotiating with the owner of a 15,000-square-foot retail strip center in the first block of South Hamilton Road, in hopes that the land can become part of the mixed-use development known as Norton Crossing.
But its owner, Eugene Fletcher, is not impressed with the city's initial offer, which followed a notice of the city's intent to take control of the 1.16-acre parcel via eminent domain.
Fletcher called the city's offer of $920,000 to obtain the property "insulting" and "ridiculous."
Whitehall Development Director Zach Woodruff confirmed that Fletcher rejected the $920,000 offer, made after Whitehall City Council members May 16 approved an ordinance to file a petition of appropriation in Franklin County Common Pleas Court to acquire the three parcels.
The $920,000 offer is based on an appraisal by the Robert Weiler Co., Woodruff said.
"We delivered a good-faith offer based on that appraisal (and) we will continue to have dialogue (with the owner) to reach a resolution," Woodruff said.
The city has obtained the law firm Frost Brown Todd to represent it in the negotiations, he said.
Fletcher is represented by Columbus attorney Geoffrey Moul.
"We object to the city's notice of appropriation and do not believe the eminent-domain process is being legally evoked," Moul said.
Moul said while his client wants to maintain ownership of the property, he is "open to having dialogue" with the city.
Fletcher said six tenants currently occupy sites in the retail center, located from 51 to 91 S. Hamilton Road. They include a cellphone store, a barbershop, a check-cashing center and a Mexican restaurant, along with the Shrimp Hut, a carryout seafood restaurant that opened in late 2015.
"They're pressuring me to sell, but I'm not interested," Fletcher said.
City officials are working to acquire the retail strip center, known as the Broad and Hamilton Plaza, at the same time Continental Real Estate is negotiating the purchase of three apartment buildings adjacent to it.
Both parcels are being sought to increase the size of Norton Crossing and to provide public access to it, Woodruff said.
The majority of Norton Crossing will be built on the former site of the Commons at Royal Landing, a 42-building, 270-unit apartment complex on 17 acres that Whitehall bought in April 2016 for $5 million from a New Jersey real-estate agent.
The development is expected to feature upscale apartments, retail, restaurants, green space and potentially a dog park.
Also included in the project is a 1-acre parcel at 115 Shumaker Lane where an apartment building once stood, and which the city bought for $25,000 and demolished in August 2015; and another 1-acre parcel owned by the Whitehall Community Improvement Corp.
The three parcels together total almost 20 acres, but Whitehall and Continental Real Estate also want to acquire the retail strip center and the three-building apartment complex to add to Norton Crossing's footprint.
If the two additional parcels are added, the size of Norton Crossing will increase to almost 25 acres, said Frank Kass, founder and chairman of Continental Real Estate.
"We are striving to build a quality community and do not want to have substandard adjacencies at the entrance to Whitehall," Kass said previously.
On April 4, Whitehall City Council authorized legislation for Mayor Kim Maggard to deed the 17 acres at the Commons at Royal Landing and the Shumaker Lane parcel to Continental Real Estate for $1.
However, the transaction will not be executed until the parcels are rezoned and a developer's agreement reached for the project, in which Continental Real Estate is expected to invest $50 million, Woodruff said.