By Tanya Sierra
[National City CA] officials are using eminent domain to force three downtown property owners to sell their land to make way for a 24-story condo project at 11th Street and National City Boulevard.
In February, the Community Development Commission began the approval process for Park Village, a high-rise that will be 257 feet tall and have shops on the ground floor.
Last night, officials gave final approval for the housing development, which will displace three businesses and an athletic program for at-risk youth.
For more than two years, Park Village developer Jim Beauchamp has tried to buy property on the block he wants to develop. The property and business owners, which include the Community Youth Athletic Center, a dry cleaner, a car lot and an auto repair business, have held out.
"In your opinion, you have a better use for my property than I do," said Ray Brock, who started an auto business 47 years ago on 11th Street. "That's what Hitler said 70 years ago."
Another longtime business owner was concerned about relocating his dry-cleaning service because environmental concerns limit where laundry businesses can operate.
Separate plans are under way to relocate the youth center. The center's board of directors and city officials have been working to find a new location for several months.
Community Development Commission board members, who also make up the City Council, said displacing old businesses is difficult but necessary for the city to grow into a vibrant, livable community.
"I'm committed to see National City grow," Councilman Frank Parra said.
In the past, National City used its eminent domain authority to clear out several bars – and the accompanying crime – on National City Boulevard. The city then built an education center in that area.
Property must be considered blighted to be seized through eminent domain. The law defines blight as property that is not economically viable and is physically deteriorating.
Councilman Luis Natividad grew irritated at the end of the hearing after several attorneys and landowners spoke against the use of eminent domain.
He accused some property owners of buying property at a low price years ago and wanting to sell high – in some cases for more than the land is worth.
"Some of you owners are greedy," he said.
The decision to use eminent domain comes four weeks after officials scrapped a plan to enlarge the area where they can use the power. Seizing property in the city is limited to businesses and vacant land. It is against the law in National City to use eminent domain to obtain residential property.
Carrying out the process, however, is rare, said Councilman Ron Morrison.
"This is rarely done in National City," Morrison said. "This is not an easy decision."
San Diego Union-Tribune" www.signonsandiego.com