Trustees OK use of eminent domain: Lincolnwood (IL) Review, 11/24/05

By Mike Isaacs

The owner of Value Transmission on Dempster Street criticized the Village Board Nov. 7 for authorizing the use of eminent domain to acquire property occupied by his business.

Avery Tarshis said his Value Transmission store at 4829 Dempster St. is a "viable business" and the property should not be acquired by Skokie.

"My business has been predicated on being on this corner for years," said Tarshis. "It's a business that's constructive to the people of Skokie. Is taking this property away good for Skokie or good for a developer?"

Village officials maintain that upgrading the area now officially known as the West Dempster Street Business Redevelopment District is good for the village. The village has not been in contact with any developer and maintains its only motivation is to improve the area.

Village Manager Al Rigoni said that the village will offer to find another location for Tarshis' business and to help pay some of the relocation costs, a common concession from Skokie for such cases.

"We're under no obligation, but we would want to do that because it's the right thing to do," Rigoni said. "We're not trying to hurt one of our businesses. We will try to accommodate the business owner in every way we can. We have even told the property owner that we're flexible on when the tenant were to move."

In addition to the 4829 Dempster St. property, the village is seeking adjoining property at 4801 Dempster. That property has been vacant for about four years. Rigoni said that the vacant property is difficult if not impossible to develop individually as evidenced by the four-year vacancy.

Village Attorney Patrick Hanley said the village would like to see a mixed-use development — commercial and residential — for the properties, which is in keeping with its vision for west Dempster Street. But the only way it's feasible to do so, he said, is for both properties to be available together.

Trustees approved a final resolution last week authorizing the village to acquire the properties at the southeast corner of Dempster Street and Niles Center Road by eminent domain if a settlement can not be reached.

But Rigoni said he remains optimistic that eminent domain will not have to be used. The village has rarely acquired property through eminent domain, he said.

The village has been negotiating with both property owners, but no timeline on a settlement has been set, Rigoni said. There has been little contact with Tarshis because the process calls for negotiating settlements with the property owners before addressing the tenants, he said.

The village created the West Dempster Street Business Redevelopment District in 2002 to revitalize the business area, which had been deteriorating for years.

The village created a special-service area that includes properties on both sides of Dempster Street from Kilpatrick Avenue on the east to just west of Lockwood Avenue on the west. The entire area occupies eight-tenths of a mile.

The improvement plan calls for $3 million in streetscape upgrades — the cost of which will be shared between the village and property owners. The village has had a longtime goal of improving the west Dempster Street area.

But Rigoni acknowledges the use of eminent domain has become controversial in recent years.

The U.S. Supreme Court this summer upheld a city's right to seize property for redevelopment projects. But a bill recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives would take away federal funding from any municipality or state that invokes eminent domain to transfer property from one private ownership to another.

Tarshis last week gave village officials a copy of a news story about the bill as he argued against the village's use of eminent domain.

"It should be used carefully and judiciously," Rigoni said. "When eminent domain is used in the context of appropriately designed projects for economic development (purposes), then it can be an appropriate technique."

Lincolnwood Review: www.pioneerlocal.com