Eminent domain struggle over bike shop: ABC-TV7 (Chicago IL), 6/6/05

By Paul Meincke

One man's battle to save his bicycle shop may rest with the United States Supreme Court.

The city of Chicago wants to use the power of eminent domain to take the property for a condo development. The bike shop owner calls that an abuse of power.

Eminent domain gives a city the power to take private land — for a fair price — so long as the deal benefits the public.

A Connecticut case awaiting an important ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court is mirrored by many eminent domain cases across the country including the fight over a Jefferson Park bike shop.

They all ask the question, "when is it proper for a public body to take private land for what will be private use?" Don Zordani is a former bicycle racing champion who has made his living selling bikes. Nearly 35 years ago, he bought an old Jewell store in Jefferson Park and turned it into a shop that has had — over the years — a sizable clientele.

The city wants to take the bike shop and surrounding properties and allow a private developer to build a seven story condominium tower.

Zordani sees that as an abuse of the city's power to condemn.

"This is not something for the city or the park district, or a school. it would just be for a private developer to make the lot of profit," said Don Zordani.

"I'd like to see some type of development there to make the community proud rather than the eyesore around those abandoned stores," said 45th Ward Ald. Pat Levar.

The city argues that the bike shop and surrounding properties are "blighted", and that building a condo tower with retail shops here would create jobs, improve the tax base and neighborhood appearance. All that, the city argues, would serve the public interest and therefore satisfy the law.

But Zordani says when this process began in the late 90's, his building had not been declared blighted, and the developer who desires his property now was investing heavily in the neighborhood.

"He built a nine-story office building he put in a blighted area," Zordani said.

"We don't think this property's blighted and if it is, then there's not a piece of property anywhere that isn't at risk of being condemned by the city," said Joe Cainkar, attorney for Zordani.

Don Zordani acknowledges that he would sell for the right price. Everybody, he says, has a number.

The developer who wants to put up the condo, Demetrius Kozonis says Zordani's number is way out of whack — several million dollars too high — that they've offered to keep the bike shop in the neighborhood, but that Zordani is stubborn and unreasonable.

ABC-TV7: http://abclocal.go.com