Neenah settles eminent domain challenge: Appleton WI Post-Crescent, 11/1/06

By Duke Behnke

The city [of Neenah WI] will pay $300,000 to settle an eminent domain challenge for a six-acre property at the southeast corner of Winnebago County G and Dixie Road.

The Common Council approved the payment Wednesday on an 8-0 vote and will consider the annexation of the land in the coming weeks.

Neenah has been trying to acquire the property of Tou F. and Pa Vang Lee, 870 County G, since December 2004 so it can realign Dixie Road with Schultz Drive as part of the expansion of the Southpark Industrial Center.

Negotiations broke down over the value of the property. The city initially offered $188,000 and then increased that to $230,000. The Lees requested $420,000, plus $40,000 in relocation costs.

City Atty. James Godlewski said the gap came from how the two sides viewed the property. The city appraised the property according to its agricultural zoning. Godlewski said the Lees appraised a majority of the property as improved industrial land.

In January, Neenah exercised eminent domain to acquire the property for $230,000. The Lees challenged Neenah’s right to take the land in Winnebago County Circuit Court, but the city prevailed.

In July, the Lees challenged the value of the taking in court. That led to a court-ordered mediation and the $300,000 settlement, meaning the city must pay an additional $70,000.

Godlewski said $300,000 is a “reasonable settlement that allows the city to proceed with road and utility work.”

Pa Vang Lee said she and her husband agreed to the settlement on the advice of their attorney.

“We are not very happy with it,” she said. “We think it is worth more because they are going to develop this as industrial.”

The Lees have until Dec. 31 to vacate the property.

Director of Community Development Bob Buckingham said the realignment of Dixie Road and the construction of a regional stormwater pond would begin early next year, clearing the way for a 60-acre expansion of the industrial park south of County G.

“We have had funds budgeted since 2005,” Buckingham said.

Appleton WI Post-Crescent: http://www.postcrescent.com