Council Considers Eminent Domain: WIBW-TV13 (Topeka KS), 7/9/06 & 7/10/06

By Stephanie Wurtz

It's soon to be the site of a multi-million dollar redevelopment project, but progress in College Hill has hit another bump. "From the city's standpoint, we need this project to get done on a timely basis, so that all of our investment pays off," says Brett Blackburn, Topeka City Council District 7.

Business owner Mike Calvin rents space for a liquor store in College Hill, and has for eight years, but now that developers have bought the property, he's got to go. "As far as how much money he gets and what he was to pay for the value of his business or the value of his lease, that's all going to be decided by the courts," says Blackburn, "whether the parties agree or disagree, the project needs to happen."

Work has already begun on the College Hill redevelopment, but if developers and the owner of the liquor store don't reach a resolution soon, it could mean delays for construction. "If it hasn't, it's getting ready to hold the process up and certainly, they can't tear down the building as long as there's a tenant in the building they can't get that phase of the project started," Blackburn says.

Unlike previous debate with owners of Jerry's Bike Shop and Oscar's Bar in the College Hill area, if the city votes to condemn the liquor store lease, it's not a matter of property owner's rights. "The developers, they are the actual owners of the property and this is just an issue between the property owner and the tenant."

Calvin couldn't be reached by phone, but he does have a notice posted outside his store stating this "use of eminent domain... is just not fair."

And encouraging customers to take action, listing city council districts and council members. The council is set to vote on whether to condemn the lease at the meeting Tuesday.

The disagreement is between the developers of the College Hill project and owner of College Hill Liquor, Mike Calvin. Tuesday's vote means developers can move along with construction plans and now the court will decide how much they should pay Calvin, since he's losing his lease at the building

"I don't know how much of a chance I have here tonight, honestly," Calvin said when he addressed the council Tuesday, "I'm scared, basically the city are partners in this project and of course it will go forward." Back in March, developers bought the property Calvin leases for his liquor store to make room for the College Hill redevelopment.

But now, Calvin and the developers can't reach an agreement on how much he deserves for losing his space in College Hill. "$90,000 is not going to stop this project, the only thing it's going to do is give me a chance to move on," said Calvin, "I had a rock solid location."

"This is a big project, it takes a lot of time and effort to acquire this number of properties to affect change and that's what this is all about," said Bill Newsome, a developer working on the project, "we did not want to be here tonight, but we're at an impasse and the law allows this vehicle to settle an impasse." In a 6-3, council members passed the ordinance condemning Calvin's lease by the required two-thirds majority.

But not all council members think it's the right thing to do. "As a matter of principle, I don't think it's appropriate or fair for the city to take an individual's property and give it to a private company for profit," Bill Haynes, City Council District 5, said after the vote.

Now the court will begin the eminent domain process to determine the price developers will pay Calvin. That process does not factor in the value of the business itself, but does include value of the time remaining on Calvin's lease.

WIBW-TV13: http://www.wibw.com