Geneva may use eminent domain to build store: (Chicago IL) Beacon News, 9/18/05

By Michele du Vair

The [Geneva IL] City Council is considering the use of eminent domain to pave the way for a long-sought East Side development.

Geneva Economic Development Director Chris Aiston said the city has received an offer to build a grocery-anchored retail center on the northeast corner of East Side Drive and Route 38.

The development would include an 18,000-square-foot grocery store, an additional 10,000 square feet of commercial space and the expansion of the existing Orlando's Pizza into a 3,000-square-foot restaurant.

A 140-space parking lot and access roads would be built as well.

The project would require the acquisition at least part of five existing parcels owned by three individuals.

Two of the three owners are in favor of selling, said Aiston. Carl Safanda, owner of Safanda Law Firm, is not. The city needs about 7,000 square feet, or one-quarter of Safanda's existing law firm site.

And it needs to remove an existing easement granting Safanda access to both East Side Drive and Route 38.

This does not mean Safanda would have to move, but it does mean his parking lot would be smaller and that the firm would be a mere 25 feet from the back of the grocery and retail stores.

Aiston said an appraisal of the Safanda assets has been performed, and the grocer has made Safanda an offer that is in line with the appraisal.

Several of the city's aldermen expressed frustration with Safanda last week, saying he has been unwilling to even state what it would take to allow the project to happen.

"People are throwing money at them, and there's been no response," Alderman Dawn Vogelsberg said.

But Safanda, who did not attend this meeting, later said that all the East Side residents he has spoken with don't even want a grocery store there. He said he's answered the city with a firm "no."

"We don't want to sell," said Safanda. "We like it here. It's a nice property."

The real problem is that the property is too small for the kind of development proposed, Safanda said. The site has been the subject of development debate for years. In 2000, the city created the East State Street Tax Increment Financing District (TIF) which consisted of 34 acres primarily along Route 38 and includes both the Safanda law firm and the proposed grocery store parcels.

And because it is a TIF district, Aiston believes the city has the legal right to invoke eminent domain, which allows a governing body to force an owner to sell his property at fair market value in order to develop a piece of property for the "greater good of the community."

If developed, the stores would bring in an estimated $600,000-$700,000 annually in tax revenue.

Resident response
East Side resident Jim Kautz said he would like to see a grocery store on that corner, and said he'd prefer keeping his grocery store money in Geneva, instead of traveling to Kirk Road in St. Charles to shop. But he says East Side projects often seem to stall.

"I'm just frustrated that meaningful redevelopment projects on the East Side take so much longer than redevelopment on the West Side," he said.

Geneva resident Chuck Ellenbaum wants the grocery store development as well, but warns against using eminent domain to get it. He feels eminent domain should be invoked only when necessary and for noncommercial projects like the East Side fire station.

Beacon News: www.suburbanchicagonews.com/beaconnews