Eminent domain looms over race: Chicago IL Daily Herald, 4/1/07

Arlington Hts. board incumbents keep quiet

By Sheila Ahern

A stalled special tax district at the south end of town is the one Arlington Heights election story few candidates are talking about — mostly because village attorney Jack Siegel told incumbents not to.

In 2005, the village board approved a plan to build a SuperTarget on the site of International Plaza on the north side of Golf Road just east of Arlington Heights Road. But three lawsuits have held up the plan.

Tenants at the International Plaza are mostly a mix of Chinese, Korean and Russian small-business owners. X-Sport Fitness currently anchors the U-shaped mall.

Assuming the lawsuits come down on the side of Arlington Heights, chances are the next step for the village board may be to condemn and start eminent domain proceedings to clear the area for the retail giant.

To do that, the board would need a majority vote, and depending on who is sitting on the board after the April election, plans for the area could change. A majority takes five votes. Seven candidates are running for four 4-year terms.

“The board would still need to adopt an ordinance to move forward with eminent domain,” Siegel said.

That’s even though village trustees already approved a redevelopment contract in 2005 saying they would use eminent domain if necessary.

The agreement directed developer Gershman Brown and Strategic Real Estate Services to get property owners to sell their land to make room for a 174,000-square-foot SuperTarget and up to 47,300 square feet of other retail shops at the site.

But Gershman wasn’t able to get any property owners to sell and gave up on negotiations in mid-August 2005.

According to the redevelopment agreement, village officials must now complete the job Gershman could not, which means voting in favor of eminent domain, where the government forcibly buys private property and pays the owner what a court determines to be fair market value.

Because of the pending lawsuits, Siegel told sitting board members not to discuss their position on eminent domain. Following Siegel’s advice, incumbents Tom Stengren and Tom Hayes declined to comment directly on the topic.

But while he wouldn’t predict his vote if the issue comes up, Stengren noted the International Plaza has “met almost every criteria set by state statute” to be considered for condemnation. He added “eminent domain is a legal tool which should not be used unless in extreme circumstances. In my years on the board, there has been no abuse of using eminent domain.”

Hayes likewise wouldn’t predict his vote, but said, “Generally, the use of tax increment financing districts has proven to be an effective tool to spur redevelopment in Arlington Heights. Eminent domain should be used on a limited, last-resort basis.”

Incumbent Helen Jensen, who also is running, stopped short of ruling out eminent domain but said she is against it.

“There’s a lot of problems down there, which is why I voted against the formation of the TIF,” Jensen said. “Maybe the board won’t have a choice, but I wouldn’t vote in favor (of eminent domain) unless it was forced on me.”

Candidate Phillip Walter called the use of eminent domain in this case “morally wrong.”

“I don’t think the village should be using it,” Walter said. “If Target wants to pursue that property on their own, that’s fine. If the village needed the land for a hospital or school, that would also be a different story.”

Candidates Laura Bartell and Keith Moens agree with Walter.

“I would not vote to take somebody’s property for a SuperTarget,” Moens said.

Candidate John Scaletta said “in my opinion, eminent domain should only be considered when every other avenue has been exhausted and only when it is clearly in the best interest of the community.”

But he added he was concerned about the redevelopment agreement, which says the village will clear the site and would consider voting in favor of eminent domain in this case.

“I would need to understand the liability of the village,” Scaletta said. “A lot of the facts haven’t been made public, but according to the redevelopment document, the village said they would use eminent domain.”

In October, the village board delayed eminent domain proceedings for about 10 properties, citing the litigation.

The only other trustee to talk publicly about the situation is Virginia Kucera, who is not up for re-election.

“I would vote against it,” she said.

Hayes, 50, and Stengren, 60, both are running for their fifth terms, while Jensen, 69, is running for her third term. The challengers are: Bartell, 44; Moens, 55; Scaletta, 37; and Walter, 40.

Scaletta is the director of operations for the Arlington Theater in downtown Arlington Heights. Hayes is a lawyer, and Bartell is a stay-at-home mom. Jensen is retired and the former village public health nurse. Stengren is a real estate broker, and Walter is a roofing contractor. Moens is a middle school math teacher in the Chicago Public Schools system.

The election is April 17.

Chicago IL Daily Herald: http://www.dailyherald.com