City plays tune of eminent domain: Hays KS Daily News, 8/24/07

By Karen Mikols

In a unanimous vote, the Hays City Commissioner took the first step in exercising its right of eminent domain.

This is the first time in approximately half a dozen years the commission began proceedings to seize personal property for development within the city.

"We don't want to do this," Vice Mayor Barbara Wasinger said. "We really don't."

The commission approved both a resolution and ordinance to condemn Jude's Piano and Organ Co., 2200 Canterbury, to begin a $2.4 million project that will connect Canterbury to Commerce Parkway via 22nd Street.

Property owner Judith "Jude" Scheck said the offer is not adequate.

"The initial offer is still standing at $63 per foot," she said. "I cannot find a contractor that will build for $63 a foot."

She said contractors have told her it costs $135 per foot to build residential buildings.

"There is also heavy wiring because every so many electronic units have to have a breaker box," Scheck said. "So there's no way I can build for $63 a foot."

According to the Ellis County Appraiser's office, Scheck's property, which includes her home and business, is valued at about $201,000. City Attorney John T. Bird said the city wants to acquire about 7,000 square feet of Scheck's property and has offered adequate compensation, but she wants about six times more than the city is offering. Since no agreement has been reached, Bird said the city is proceeding to the next step, which is condemnation.

"Three appraisers are appointed through the court," Bird said. "If that appraisal price is unsatisfactory to the owner, then the owner has the right to appeal it to a district court jury to have it decided."

He describes the process as one with "ample due process in it."

"Without question, it is the harshest use of power by government we have, but that's why we have the safeguards in place," Bird said. "It's not anything we take any pleasure in, but it's the only way we can build infrastructure in the city for the common good.

"We hold out hope that before the process plays out all the way that the parties can get together and resolve the differences."

Mayor Troy Hickman said constructing 22nd Street from Canterbury to Commerce Parkway has been in the works for about five years.

"We're planning ahead," Hickman said. "We've started and are still building utilities out to Commerce Parkway to stir the economic growth in that direction."

He pointed out the Army Reserve Center now is on Commerce Parkway, and developing 22nd Street will help with access to Hays Medical Center.

Even if there isn't development now, Hickman points to a similar effort north of Interstate 70.

"Ten years ago, there was an antique car museum and gas station north of I-70," Hickman said. "Part of the reason was that there were no utilities and no streets. We built utilities and streets, and look what happened. We want to try to encourage development to the east. You're not going to have development without streets and utilities."

Bird said the city initiated the eminent domain process for the reconstruction of Hall Street in 2001.

"We filed a condemnation on Hall Street, but it was never served because we settled it almost immediately," he said. "The time before then was in the '80s, when we were doing an expansion at the airport runways."

During the discussion, Commissioner Ron Mellick asked Bird to differentiate between this current action and the ordinance passed in November 2005 that restricts the city's ability to use eminent domain.

"Your predecessor commission passed an ordinance that said you are not to use the power of eminent domain to turn around and give the property to another private entity," Bird said. "It's only to be used for building purposes. It doesn't affect us here because we're taking it for a street."

Hays KS Daily News: http://www.hdnews.net