By Kevin Leininger
Some might call Stan and Diana Kruse greedy. Others might accuse them of trying to block the inevitable march of progress.
But to the Kruses, the city’s seizure of land needed to run a new sewer line past their Rothman Road home – without paying them a cent for the property – is about far more than money.
“The Fifth Amendment says the government can’t take your property without just compensation, but that’s exactly what the city is doing,” said Diana Kruse, who has lived at 6930 Rothman Road since 1967. “We (raised) seven kids here, and the property was to be passed down to them. Now I feel like my heart’s been cut out, like we’ve been raped and robbed.”
City officials disagree, of course. Even though they offered the Kruses $5,000 for the property late last year hoping to avoid an expensive condemnation process – an offer the Kruses rejected – Water Resources Program Manager Ted Nitza said a cash payment now would be “inappropriate because we feel the benefits of the project (to the Kruses) exceeds the value of what was taken.”
Because the Kruses have appealed the condemnation approved May 18 by the Board of Works, Allen Superior Court Judge Stanley Levine will decide whether things such as a new fence and the ability to trade a septic tank for city sewers is adequate compensation for nearly three-quarters of an acre of what is becoming prime real estate. But State Sen. Dennis Kruse – a distant relative of Stan Kruse – believes the fact that the dispute has gotten so bitter indicates “the city has not handled this properly. It looks like somebody just got upset (with the Kruses for rejecting the initial $5,000 offer) and simply cut off negotiations and communications (with them).”
“It is my responsibility as state senator to see that (the Kruses) are fully compensated and fairly represented,” Kruse, R-Auburn, said in a letter to Mayor Graham Richard on Wednesday.
In some ways, the Kruses’ story is familiar: Their once-rural 11-acre property – still home to two horses and several cats and dogs – is quickly being surrounded by new neighborhoods requiring sewer and water service. The 260-home Valencia neighborhood is being built just to the east of the Kruses, for example, and other developments are coming. And, because of all that additional traffic, Rothman Road will have to be widened one day – another reason the city needed the 15-foot right-of-way from the Kruses.
Nitza said the new sewers will also benefit the owners of several homes near Hazelett and Rothman roads who are now using septic systems that often fail because of Allen County’s poor soil conditions. “It can cost $10,000 to $15,000 to replace a tank,” Nitza said to illustrate the sewer project’s value to the Kruses. “And Stan Kruse has already asked to tap into the sewer.”
But it can cost homeowners thousands of dollars to connect to sewers, too – and there has been no discussion of waiving those fees for the Kruses, Nitza said.
By law, the city must determine the value of land, trees and improvements such as fences condemned through its power of eminent domain. But the Kruses believe their property is worth far more than any benefits they will receive in return. “It’s absolutely absurd,” Diana Kruse said of the city’s offer – or lack of it. “We told them we wanted to get our own appraisal. But they wouldn’t wait.”
“The developers are just using the city to get our land because they couldn’t get it on their own,” added Stan Kruse, who believes the land and other improvements are worth about $20,000 and said he’s interested in sewer service only because it’s available. His septic system is working just fine, Kruse said, and there is no record of any problems there, said Gary Chapple, pollution control director for the Fort Wayne-Allen County Board of Health.
Nitza said the sewer is not being installed on the other side of Rothman Road because there is already a water line there and the city wants to keep sewer and water pipes separate for health reasons. Using the Kruses’ side of the road will also cost taxpayers less, he said.
Roy Buskirk, a County Councilman and land appraiser, said he has never heard of a case where government “didn’t pay at least something (for property), and I’ve been doing this for 19 years.”
Nitza, however, said it’s not unusual for landowners simply to donate easements, and is satisfied the city has met its moral and legal obligations in the Kruses’ case. By the time Levine decides, the work in front of the Kruses’ home may be long-completed.
All of which leaves Diane Kruse wondering whether the couple should simply bow to progress and sell their remaining 10 acres – property the city is equipping with sewer tap-ins for two additional homes which would be valuable to developers but are of little interest to the Kruses.
“I don’t feel good about all these homes being built, and we’ve had (traffic) deaths out here already,” Diana Kruse said. “This may not be a big deal to the city, but it is to us. To see everything we’ve worked for …”
Choked with emotion, she couldn’t finish the sentence. But her meaning was clear.