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The threat of eminent domain likely played a role in sale of property near future Micron site

This is one of at least two dozen roads along Burnet Road that had overgrown lawns. The county mowed them less than 24 hours after neighbors complained about the lack of maintenance over the course of months and even years.
Scott Willis
This is one of the many homes sold to OCIDA on Burnet Road, despite a sign indicating resistance to the proposed development of White Pine.

Homeowners adjacent to the future site of Micron’s semiconductor plant in Clay have been living with the possibility of the county using eminent domain to seize their property for over a year.  It’s never come to that, but the county has been paying homeowners along Burnet Road premium prices for their property in order to add acreage to White Pine Park.  However, the county’s approach has rubbed some the wrong way. 

Nearly all of the roughly three dozen homeowners on the rural road have agreed to sell their homes at this point, but some say the process has been anything but fair. Onondaga County Legislator Mary Kuhn says the county began by sending letters and real estate agents offering to buy the homes. She says this fueled resistance and mistrust.

“There was not a general openness or transparency to the process," Kuhn said. "I know some older residents who were very frightened by this, and wound up settling for less because they were scared.  The whole process was handled poorly.”

Those who insisted on staying ended up getting more for their properties as the county grew more desperate to expand the site. The now-1,500 acres was apparently enough to land a historic 20-year, $100 billion commitment from Micron. The Onondaga County Industrial Development agency, or OCIDA, gave itself the authority to use eminent domain if owners refused to sell. Chairman Pat Hogan says they have the larger community in mind.

“When you’re talking about 9,000 jobs, maybe 50,000 to 60,000 people moving to this community to reinvigorate the whole Central New York area, you’re going to have to make some hard decisions," Hogan said.  "Certainly, eminent domain is not something you take lightly.” 

Hogan says their goal was to make sure they had enough property not just for Micron, but for the ancillary companies that follow the chip makers.

County legislature majority leader Brian May says he wouldn’t support seizing property for private development. But he acknowledges the mere possibility was a factor in negotiations.

“The overarching threat of the potential of eminent domain was there.  That was a driver in these circumstances," May said.  "It motivated OCIDA to probably pay more.  It motivated the homeowners to hold out, because when it's gone, it’s gone.” 

May knows it was a difficult situation, with the prospect of a transformational project at odds with homesteads that have been in families for generations. But he says most were compensated well, for what he calls more than a fair price of progress.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at