Council contemplates authorizing eminent domain: Marshalltown IA Times-Republican, 10/2/07

The Marshalltown City Council will decide next week whether it is prepared to use eminent domain if a local landowner will not agree to sell land for a westward extension of Merle Hibbs Boulevard.

Keith Jans of Real Estate Equities, the Minneapolis developer of the proposed new Village Cooperative, had earlier announced an agreement in principle with property owner Jack Gethmann to allow the street to be extended to service the senior living complex. Now the two parties are at an impasse, Jans told the council Monday.

“Now the one owner is not answering phone calls and is not doing anything to allow us to be able to build that road,” said Dick Hierstein, city administrator. “The city has the right to build roads where needed. Our comprehensive plan calls for the extension of Merle Hibbs Boulevard. We need that street extended and we have a chance to extend it about 1,000 feet at very little cost to the city. I believe that the city needs to start the process of getting that right-of-way and building that street.”

At its next meeting, the council will vote whether or not to authorize staff to negotiate first toward a voluntary agreement to extend the street but potentially an involuntary acquisition through condemnation and eminent domain.

If the city builds the street, it would bring complications to the situation, Hierstein said, including immediate assessments rather than delayed payments that could be arranged if a deal was struck just between the two owners.

“I believe this project is of substantial benefit to the community. Merle Hibbs Boulevard is something we need extended,” Hierstein said.

If eminent domain is used, the procedure could last three to four months, he said. The development, Jans said, is ready to go to bid and start construction.

“I know this project is important and it seems reasonable to me to authorize staff to move forward. I have no problems with it,” said council member Jeff Linton, with a verbal nod of agreement from Bob Schubert.

Also at the meeting, the council discussed an opportunity to obtain real estate near Center Street between State and Grant streets for the future redevelopment of that area, called the Grant Park neighborhood.

Following the City Center Plan and interest from a prospective housing developer, the city applied for grant funding to pursue property acquisition, of which $200,000 is currently included in a not-yet-finalized bill in Congress.

Redevelopment plans would begin at the northwest end of the block, where more blighting has occurred, and the property at 6 W. Grant St. is presently being prepared for resale.

“If we don’t commit [to buying the property], I’m convinced our costs later will be considerably higher,” Hierstein said.

Owner Jay Hansen has offered the home for $36,000.

Marshalltown IA Times-Republican: http://www.timesrepublican.com