Residents - Don't use eminent domain: Minnesota This Week, Burnsville MN, 6/22/07

By Tad Johnson

By a show of hands, there was nearly unanimous opposition to eminent domain among an overflow crowd at a Tuesday, June 19 public hearing of the Rosemount [MN] Port Authority.

The Port Authority set the hearing that an estimated 150 people attended to receive testimony regarding the city’s intent to use eminent domain to acquire the Ratzlaff Service Station, 14630 S. Robert Trail.

Acquiring the property would clear the way for redeveloping Core Block East (see plan).

Of the 14 residents who spoke, nearly all opposed the idea of using eminent domain though a few urged the city that redeveloping downtown is needed.

While the Port Authority is considering using eminent domain to acquire the Ratzlaff property owned by Dr. Kurt Walter-Hansen, negotiations continue in an effort to end the stalemate.

Hansen and his attorney, Len Levine, met with the city’s Core Block East contracted developer, Wally Johnson of Stonebridge Cos., June 11 to discuss a possible partnership. The city has met with Hansen and/or Levine eight times since Feb. 5, 2007.

After receiving about an hour’s worth of testimony, the Port Authority continued the public hearing to 6 p.m. July 16 in the City Hall Council Chambers.

When the public hearing process is completed, the Port Authority will decide whether or not to use eminent domain, at the earliest, during an August meeting.

Eminent domain
Pat Walter, who co-owns the Ratzlaff property with her husband, was concerned that using eminent domain would cast a negative tone for downtown redevelopment.

Don Ratzlaff, who operates the service station and truck rental business, says using eminent domain would create an atmosphere of distrust to take something out of his pocket and give it to someone else.

Gary Graham, co-owner of Quilter’s Haven located south of the proposed redevelopment building, asked if any building in the city’s downtown tax-increment financing (TIF) district could be obtained by eminent domain.

Corrine Thomson, the city’s legal counsel, confirmed that the city could use eminent domain for properties in the TIF district until 2009.

When passing new law in 2006, the Minnesota Legislature granted an exception to cities that had already certified redevelopment TIF districts prior to May 1, 2006, that those cities could use provisions of the old law. The city’s TIF district was certified July 29, 2004.

The old law permitted use of eminent domain for redevelopment projects.

Residents encouraged the Port Authority to work with Hansen to negotiate a sale, rather than using eminent domain.

“We expect the city to work with property owners and not against them,” said Vivian Smithburg.

“The end doesn’t justify the means,” said Rosemount resident Dan McNulty. “Do the right thing: Say no to eminent domain.”

Prior to selling his property to Hansen, Ratzlaff said negotiations with the city’s developer were poor at best.

The city reported that offers to purchase the Ratzlaff property above its appraised value of $275,000 were made in November and December of 2005. Hansen purchased the property for $450,000 in September 2006, according to the city.

While negotiating with Hansen, the city made an April 13 purchase offer for the Ratzlaff property and three other sites in Core Block East.

Hansen had until May 14 to respond to the offer after he was granted two-week extension from the original deadline.

In a letter to the city, Hansen wrote that he is a willing seller, but did not indicate whether he accepted or denied the offer or made a counteroffer.

Minnesota This Week, Burnsville MN: http://www.thisweek-online.com