Wonderland Owners File Suit Over Eminent Domain Taking

By Adam Swift

The owners of the Wonderland property have filed a lawsuit against the city over the taking of the 33-plus acre property by eminent domain.

CBW Lending, LLC vs. City of Revere was filed in Suffolk Superior Court on Friday, Feb. 17.

CBW Lending, a group that includes local businessman Joe O’Donnell and Vornado Realty Trust, is being represented by attorneys Peter Flynn and Jason Scopa of the Saugus-based Law Offices of Peter Flynn, which specializes in eminent domain cases.

Last November, the City Council approved a $29.5 million bond to purchase the property, which consists of 12 individual lots, for use as the home of the new Revere High School.

Flynn said the current landowners are not contesting the validity of the  taking itself, but the price that was approved to pay for the property.

“Our complaint against the city of Revere so far is just a complaint seeking additional damages over the original award,” said Flynn. “We feel that we have been grossly underpaid.”

The official date listed for damages in the case is Nov. 18, which Flynn said is the date for which everyone involved in the case has to value the property.

“That’s the date the city recorded the order of taking, because they voted it on (Nov.) 17,” said Flynn.

While Flynn’s firm has handled a number of high-profile eminent domain cases in the region and throughout the state, Flynn said the Wonderland case could be the biggest one yet.

“This case represents potentially the largest eminent domain case in the history of the state,” said Flynn.

The taking price is well below what other market indicators have indicated the property could be worth, Flynn said.

“If you were to say to me, what’s the low, what’s the high?, it would run anywhere from $50, $60 (million) to $120 million,” said Flynn.

The potential for a lawsuit and for the city ‘s cost of the land taking going past the initial $29.5 million that was approved for bonding has been a concern raised by several city councillors.

In the recent debate over the price tag of the project itself, several councillors have requested that the city look at the costs for building on the current high school site.

Councilors Anthony Zambuto and Dan Rizzo have been among those who have cautioned on taking the property off the table for future private development, while Mayor Brian Arrigo has noted that the land has sat empty with no viable development offers for the land.

At a ways and means subcommittee meeting on Feb. 13, Brian Dakin of project manager LeftField estimated that going back to the current site would have a price tag of $525 million. 

On Monday, Feb. 27, the council is being asked to forward a schematic plan to the Massachusetts School Building Authority with an estimated cost of $470 million, with a cost to the city of $290 million after the MSBA loan. That estimate does not include the acquisition costs for the Wonderland site.

“I think we were all prepared for some form of legal posturing during this land taking,” said Council President Patrick Keefe. “It’s not uncommon (and) not unexpected.” Flynn said he has a good relationship with the legal counsel representing the city, and said everyone will be wondering if there is some imaginative way the city and the landowners can resolve the issue.

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