Eminent domain to secure land for Ace: Beloit (WI) Daily News, 9/30/05

Land declared blighted to begin process

By Rebekah Danaher

In planning to move Ace Hardware to a central downtown location, the City of Beloit's Community Development Authority (CDA) will acquire properties in the 400 block of Broad Street and 200 block of Pleasant Street through eminent domain.

The CDA voted Wednesday night to utilize eminent domain after declaring several properties blighted.

Ace Hardware will move from its Pleasant Street location to Broad Street by 2007 following action taken by the Beloit City Council Sept. 6. The city council approved a development agreement between Harris Ace Hardware and the City of Beloit, approving the city's purchase of the Ace Hardware property. The planned use for the property is to extend park property along the shores of the Rock River.

Both the City Council and the City Plan Commission recommended the project and the council authorized the CDA to acquire the properties on Broad Street through eminent domain for occupation by the new Ace store.

Stateline Properties, LLC - a Ken Hendricks company - owns the parcels at 210 and 214 Pleasant Street and 440 and 448 Broad Street. Martin Kades owns parcels at 430 and 434 Broad Street and 441 St. Paul. Roger Bryden's RVB Partnership owns the land at 426 Broad Street.

The City Council does not have jurisdiction to give land to a private company. The CDA can do so through eminent domain if it determines the properties are blighted. The CDA held a public hearing Wednesday, deciding that the properties are blighted.

According to 66.1333(2m)(3)(bm) State Statutes, an area may be designated as blighted due to a number of structural and conditional characteristics such as unsafe structures, obsolete platting, fire hazards or diversity of ownership - anything that "substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the community."

Labeling a property as blighted does not mean the structure is ready to collapse, Assistant City Manager Steve Gregg said, rather the city looks for any factors to qualify it for such a designation.

Gregg said obtaining the land by eminent domain as opposed to traditional means is preferred as it safeguards against any landowner refusing to sell and preventing the entire block from coming into the CDA's possession. Despite a "scary" connotation, Gregg said eminent domain does protect landowners by ensuring them the market value for their property.

Law requires the city to provide alternative sites for business owners displaced through eminent domain. The city will hire an appraiser to assess the land but must also pay for a second appraiser if the owners requests a second opinion. The city also will hire a relocation specialist to plan the move of the existing tenants.

Roger Bryden, owner of RVB Partnership, owns the land at 426 Broad St., previously occupied by Normington's Cleaners. Bryden said he had intended to sell the land to Blackhawk Bank if it chose to expand and said he isn't particularly thrilled with the CDA's intent to exercise eminent domain.

Bryden claims he never personally received a letter from the city and only had a casual conversation about the property with City Manager Larry Arft several months ago. Though expressing his confidence in Arft's plan, Bryden said he preferred to be talked to directly about the matter.

Bryden said he hoped the city would offer him a satisfactory price for his land "or we're going to have a good arm wrestling match," he said.

But Gregg said the city did send a letter to RVB Partnership and the other property owners. A letter dated Sept. 2 provided to the Beloit Daily News by the city includes details on the agreement with Ace and the intent to host a public hearing on Sept. 28, inviting the property owners to make known any concerns. The city also supplied the receipt from the letter delivered to RVB Partnership on Sept. 3.

Gregg said the city is not required to notify the store owners, but as a courtesy he spoke with the owners of La Belle Boutique and Bumper to Bumper at 430 Broad St.

Oscar Roman, owner of La Belle Boutique on Broad Street, said he never received a letter and does recall a brief phone conversation with a city staff person but only after he contacted the city. Roman said he will be sorry to leave his downtown spot where his clothing and accessories store has been for the past nine months.

"Most of these businesses are so big they can find customers anywhere," he said. "It's the smaller businesses that suffer"

Roman said he hopes to at least be moved to a desirable location as a result of the deal.

Beloit Daily News: www.beloitdailynews.com