Monday, December 03, 2001

Officials seething over lawsuit

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — A legal appeal of the city's property owner assessments for the Monmouth Streetscape project has city officials and the head of the Newport Business Association unhappy.

        The legal action, before the Kentucky Court of Appeals, seeks to prevent the city from assessing a group of Monmouth Street property/business owners for a portion of the $4 million price tag for the streetscape project, which includes new paver sidewalks, elimination of all overhead wires and utility poles, and installation of underground utilities.

        “I was told by several of the people who are a part of the suit that if the city could come up with more money to cut the percentage they had to pay,” said Newport attorney and Business Association president Tom Beiting.

        “But after the city, through the efforts of (State) Rep. Jim Callahan, (D-Wilder), obtained another $400,000 toward the cost, the suit continues,” he said. “I believe people should be as good as their word. I'm really disappointed.”

        The city obtained another $400,000 grant last summer from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet for the streetscape project, and with the addition of the latest $400,000, property owners now will pay only 14 percent of the $4 million, with the city paying 53

        percent and the state 33 percent.

        Some 30 property owners are part of the suit, ranging from the owners of a single piece of property to business owners like Armina Lee and her husband, Roger Peterson, who own nearly an entire block of Monmouth Street property between Sixth and Seventh streets.

        Mr. Peterson said he felt the city was moving too quickly with the streetscape project to make the area now known as South of the Levee more attractive. Mr. Peterson thinks the first order of business should be to help the businesses along Monmouth Street, where a number of businesses have closed and several buildings stand empty.

        Mayor Tom Guidugli said he was upset that the property owners would continue with the suit in light of all the city had done to reduce the portion the owners had to pay for upgrades to their property.

        “I'm really disgusted,” he said. “We have worked so hard to make this a positive effort for everyone. I just can't believe the suit hasn't been dropped.”

        City Manager Phil Ciafardini also was angered. Talking after a recent Business Association meeting, he said the city “has done everything we said we would do. We promised to look for more money from the state. Many of the property owners said they thought we should wait on the streetscape until we were sure we had the additional state funding. But we got it, and they still want to sue us.”

        Attorney Tony Brinker, who handled the initial filing in Campbell Circuit Court and the state appeal, said the majority of the original group of property owners indicated to him they wished to continue the action even though more state funds were acquired by the city.

        Other major property owners involved in the appeal of the assessments are Sarakatsannis Realty Co. and Dixie Chili, owned by the Sarakatsannis family; James and Frances Peluso; William Barton Jr.; and Stanley Statman. About 60 Monmouth Street prop erties from Fifth to 11th streets are involved.

        The original appeal of the streetscape assessments was dismissed by Circuit Court Judge Leonard Kopowski because it was filed after a 30-day deadline. That decision is the one before the state appellate court.


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