Businessman resists condemnation plans: Indianapolis IN Star, 4/4/07

By James A. Gillaspy

As county commissioners try to expand downtown [Noblesville IN] parking through land condemnations, one targeted property owner says the claim that he refused to negotiate a sale of his half acre is not entirely accurate.

“They never came over and made me a decent offer,” said Chuck McMillan, owner of McMillan’s Auto Care and Towing shop across from the Hamilton County Government and Judicial Center.

In recent objections to the condemnation proceedings, McMillan and his attorney also contend the decision to seize the property through eminent domain was premature because officials did not adequately specify the intended use or necessity as required.

The condemnation proceedings initiated last year involved properties between White River and Sixth Street just south of the government center. The idea was to expand an existing 188-space parking lot to about 300 spaces, primarily for county employees and jury pools.

Besides their stated desire to add parking spaces, the commissioners’ lawsuit cites vague plans “for the potential future construction of offices for Hamilton County government.”

Officials also have declared the possibility of a parking garage.

According to the objection filed last month in Hamilton County Superior Court 1, the county “failed to make an offer to purchase based on the actual current fair market value” and “failed to demonstrate either the ‘use’ or ‘necessity’ which would justify its attempt to take the private property...

“The proposed take is excessive and not based upon what is reasonably necessary now or in the reasonably foreseeable future, and is based upon remote and speculative needs,” said the filing by McMillan’s lawyer, J. Michael Antrim.

A nearby property owner on White River, who was sued in a separate condemnation action, also had complained that the $90,000 offered for his land was insufficient. He settled when the county bumped its price to $120,000.

McMillan, who has run his business at a former gas station at 599 Conner Street for 22 years, said the county’s offer of $314,000 attaches no value on the business or his cost to relocate it.

“You can’t buy a decent house with that,” said the 72-year-old proprietor.

Based on an appraisal and his own calculations, he estimates a fair price at $1.5 million, which would cover costs of replacing equipment he can’t move and expenses necessary to comply with added restrictions on his business that don’t affect his current operation.

Mike Howard, attorney for Hamilton County Commissioners, said he understands McMillan’s expectations for more cash. He said a separate statute, and separate negotiations, would apply for those relocation expenses, however.

“This is a separate issue that is really decided outside of the eminent domain proceeding,” said Howard. “The eminent domain proceeding is fair market value of the property.”

Howard said the relocation expenses would be taken into consideration if the county is given a go-ahead to obtain appraisers to set the value of the real estate for condemnation.

“Of course, he’s saying that we don’t have the right to take it,” Howard said of the pending objections that will be set for a hearing. “So, if he wins that then we don’t have anything to talk about.”

Indianapolis IN Star: http://www.indystar.com