Ruling keeps Troy Transit Center closed, passengers in the cold

From the Detroit Free Press:

Photo by Larry Sobczak
Photo by Larry Sobczak

A court ruling Friday added a fresh setback to 13 years of contentious efforts by Troy officials to open a regional transit center.

Oakland County Circuit Judge Leo Bowman denied the city’s request to be awarded immediate possession of the land that sits under the transit center.

Bowman’s ruling states that the land, which is surrounded by a shopping center at the southwest corner of Coolidge and Maple, is still owned by the shopping center’s developer. Now the city must file a new lawsuit, or negotiate directly, to gain ownership of the 2.7 acres from developer Gary Sakwa and his firm, Grand/Sakwa Properties, attorneys on both sides said.

“Everybody wants this center open — everybody I talk to,” Troy Mayor Dane Slater said after hearing of the ruling.

“I wish Mr. Sakwa would work with us in everybody’s best interest. His development there has been a very positive thing, and this transit center is only going to help that,” Slater said. The project was endorsed by Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Gov. Rick Snyder, he said.

The center was finished by late fall, but Amtrak won’t sign a lease with Troy until the city owns the land, Troy officials said.

Since 2000, city officials have said that Troy owned the land. But in May, an appeals court unanimously ruled that Troy failed to abide by a court-ordered agreement signed in June 2000 that let Grand/Sakwa Properties build its $100-million shopping and condo complex while giving Troy exactly 10 years to fund its transit project. The court ruled that Troy missed the deadline.

In the lawsuit that Bowman dismissed Friday, the city offered to pay the developer $550,000, a figure arrived at through a 2010 appraisal conducted before the transit center was built, city attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm said. The judge’s ruling requires that the city get a current appraisal before returning to court, Bluhm said.

“I expect that is the course we will take,” she said Friday.

Still, if the city were to make a purchase offer that the developer accepted, the litigation would go away, she said. The Troy City Commission voted in November to set aside $1.8 million in federal grant money, left from the construction of the project, for possible purchase of the land, according to city documents.

Gary Sakwa has declined to comment on the issue for years. But in a 104-page legal response to the city’s lawsuit seeking ownership of the land, the developer’s lawyers at Dykema Gossett contended that the city must pay the developer for providing access drives through the shopping center. They ridiculed the city’s 2010 land appraisal as having been “coincidentally determined during a time of global real estate recession.”

“The city is going to have to go back and do it right — that is, make a good-faith offer,” said Alan Greene, attorney for Grand/Sakwa Properties.

Had the city gained immediate possession of the land on which the $7-million center sits, the center would have soon opened and Amtrak passengers would have been sheltered from the cold while waiting for trains inside the new building, Troy officials said.

For now, and perhaps months to come, Amtrak riders must continue to use a crude bus shelter, largely open to the elements, built on a concrete pad on the Birmingham side of the tracks.