Appeal to MN Supreme Court Seeks “One last chance for justice, 7/15/05

News Release

Danny Orttell, a 25 year resident of Oak Grove [MN], claims his entire Lake George neighborhood was deemed blighted and then bulldozed via Eminent Domain under the false pretense that a low to moderate income senior apartment complex would be built there.

In order to prove the “public’s purpose” in the taking of Mr. Orttell’s home, neighborhood, and the Shoreside restaurant/bar, the city of Oak Grove and the Anoka County Housing and Redevelopment Authority originally proposed that the 54 unit senior apartment structure be built entirely on the old neighborhood property. This proposal was made public in 2001. Orttell’s adjoining 7.2 acre tree nursery was also taken as an extension of the project.

Orttell contends that building the senior complex on his old neighborhood site was never feasible because of its proximity to the lake. The density of the structure requires that it be built 500 or more feet from the shoreline. “I believe the initial site plan was only used to successfully take the West Lake George properties,” Orttell says.

The plan was later radically revised placing the structure completely outside the doomed neighborhood site. One top project official even testified during Orttell’s first Eminent Domain hearing appeal that the revised senior complex could be built in its entirety on the 7.2 acre tree nursery parcel, without requiring the use of the original lakeside neighborhood properties whatsoever.

The fact is, the senior complex is being constructed solely on the 7.2 acre nursery parcel taken by the city. And since the bulldozers pulled out over a year ago, after leveling the village by the bay known as Paradise, no construction or development has ever taken place there. Now that the dust from the rubble has cleared, the very desirable lakeside properties are being sold to private developers. Such sales directly violate original Eminent Domain rules (prior to 06/23/05, the date of the US Supreme Court’s newest decision) concerning the “public’s purpose.” It seems Oak Grove’s hidden agenda was more about social cleansing than it was best serving the public. Only 1 of the 54 apartments will be subsidized, the rest will be unaffordable to any low to moderate income retiree.

In an attempt to mask this atrocity Oak Grove attorneys now claim that the taking of the ill-fated neighborhood was necessary in order to run utilities to the senior complex. Orttell claims, however, that utilities have always been run along boulevard right-of-ways. The senior complex is now being built at the furthest possible point from Lake George within the project area, completely off the old neighborhood site, and only a few feet from existing utility supplies. This being the case, it becomes highly questionable whether the residential demolition and forced relocation of 16 residents and 2 family-owned businesses was ever necessary.

In early arguments regarding the project, Orttell offered to sell vacant land directly across the road from the project area to the city of Oak Grove. Despite the millions of dollars the city could have saved by this more sensible solution, Orttell’s offer was ignored.

Many sources close to this matter allege that several city officials including the Mayor and one council member have voiced their strong dislike for Orttell from the beginning, virtually launching a smear campaign against him. Orttell contends this constitutes a biased vote on the decision to proceed with the project. Under the rules of democratic procedure, this would nullify that vote. The majority of Oak Grove residents were opposed to the project.

“They can think or say what they will about me. I’m no angel, but I am a taxpaying, registered voting citizen, and I’ve always been a fighter,” Orttell says. “Though this has taken far more than one man’s toll on my physical, mental, and financial stability, I will continue to fight for what I believe is right, and against what I think is wrong, and given the US Supreme Court’s decision on June 23, 2005 — virtually handing local government full rein over Eminent Domain, we as Americans should fly our flags at half-mast this Labor Day for the freedom we have lost.”

Danny Orttell: dannyorttell@hotmail.com