Eminent domain case settled: St Paul (MN) pioneer Press, 6/3/06

Restaurant owner says he's 'tired of the fight,' agrees to make way for senior housing

By Nancy Ying

A tenant who challenged the eminent domain process used at a Cottage Grove shopping center agreed Friday to settle the issue, paving the way for the mall's demolition later this year and the development of the site into senior housing.

Dennis Wolfe, owner of DeMori's Restaurant and the last tenant at the Cottage Square Mall, took Cottage Grove to court over what he said were suspect reasons for authorizing eminent domain — particularly the fact that the site's redevelopment would not serve a public purpose but would help a private entity.

Others named in the lawsuit were Snyder Drug Stores, the Fraternal Order of Police and Mendota Valley Amusements Inc.

Snyder's signed a lease termination agreement last month and closed shop; the remaining two organizations could challenge the city again June 12 in court, but an attorney for the city said the groups are not expected to do so. Both were affiliated with DeMori's Cottage Square Mall location.

Wolfe appeared Friday in Washington County District Court, but after about an hour of the hearing, his attorney announced that Wolfe was willing to settle.

Wolfe will receive a compensation of about $180,000 and must close his restaurant by June 30.

"I'm just tired of the fight," Wolfe said. "It's easier to move on and try to relocate in Cottage Grove." Wolfe has another DeMori's Restaurant in Oakdale and said he already has a few new locations in mind in Cottage Grove.

Earlier this year, Cottage Grove officials launched eminent domain proceedings to allow Presbyterian Homes to buy out the last two leases at what officials call a dilapidated shopping mall.

Roseville-based Presbyterian Homes wants to raze the mall and build more than 150 units of senior housing and retail and office spaces on the 13-acre parcel.

City officials have said there is a growing need for senior housing in Cottage Grove.

Presbyterian Homes has helped mall tenants relocate, but could not reach a deal with Snyder's or DeMori's, which were tenants for decades.

As the city launched eminent domain proceedings, Snyder's representatives said they filed a lawsuit against Presbyterian Homes for breach of lease regarding the condition and appearance of the mall. Snyder's dropped the lawsuit after the lease was terminated. As of now the store will not relocate in Cottage Grove, said Dave Leonard, Snyder's vice president of real estate development.

Cottage Grove City Administrator Ryan Schroeder said officials have wanted to redevelop the Cottage Square site for years. In 2001, he said, they created a Gateway Redevelopment District, which includes the mall.

In late January, a building inspection confirmed the shopping center's deteriorated condition, which cities can use as an argument for eminent domain.

Pioneer Press: http://www.twincities.com/mld/pioneerpress