Aldermen shoot down suggestion of Eminent Domain for Fifth Street Road right of way acquisition
Topic leads to discussion about other aspects of the project

Send a link to a friend  Share

[November 17, 2017] 


At the Tuesday evening committee of the whole meeting of the Lincoln City Council, City Administrator Bob Mahrt introduced the topic of adopting a policy for Eminent Domain in order to complete the needed right of way land acquisitions for the Fifth Street Road project.

While that suggestion was shot down by aldermen, the discussion led to other points of concern over the project by aldermen.

Mahrt began by explaining that there are approximately 40 parcels of land that must be purchased for the project to move forward to bid letting. Of the 40, he said that only 16 were “mostly settled.” The other properties he said owners were either holding out for more money, or they had disengaged and were not responding at all to requests and/or offers from the city.

Mahrt said this was an issue because the city has a timeline connected to state monies. Mahrt said that the project relies heavily on federal funding, and if the city doesn’t get to the bid letting within the coming year, it could miss out on current funding and have to wait for another cycle.

He said he knew that Eminent Domain was not “palatable” to him, but it was something the city has the right to do in order to keep the project moving. He said adopting an Eminent Domain policy does not mean the city would utilize it, but it would be another tool for completing the project. He said he was asking for a resolution that gives the authority to exercise Eminent Domain, but the aldermen would have control of the situation on a case by case basis.

Ron Keller asked Mahrt to expand a little bit on the use of Eminent Domain and the process involved. Mahrt said that the properties have all been appraised and values set. The city has to work within the federal guidelines on property value so it doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room on the amount offered to the land owner.

The process he said would be to approach the land owner with a letter and or a visit first. If the landowner doesn’t respond favorably, then the city can start the process with a notice of intent to exercise Eminent Domain. The land owner would have 60 days to respond, then the city would have to file suit against the landowner and the case would go before the courts. The court would then hear the case, set the value of the property and award the compensation to the landowner.

The city would pay the landowner, and he or she would be forced to turn their property over to the city by order of the court.

Steve Parrott asked if there were landowners who have said flat out ‘no’ they won’t sell. Mahrt said yes, there are a couple.

Rick Hoefle said he’s seen Eminent Domain and he wants no part of it. He went on to ask about the value of the project.

He noted that the project has been ongoing for the past 21 years, and still nothing is done. Hoefle thought there could be work done on the road to make it better now, without doing all the detailed curb and gutter work and multiple lanes.

Michelle Bauer said she lives in that area, and she really doesn’t want to see the project die altogether. However, she noted that looking at the financial side of the project, the city still needs to raise $1.2 million for its share. She said that with that kind of shortfall, she certainly didn’t see the need to exercise Eminent Domain at this time. She said she agreed with Hoefle that the road needs work now.

She recalled there were conversations with area businesses on the street such as Heritage Packaging and Sysco that the road would be completed, and that the completion of the road would lead to economic development.

Bauer also wondered if there was an Economic Development plan that impacted the area once the road was completed. She said to her knowledge there was no plan. “We don’t have a vision for the road. As a council, or at least this council, hasn’t sat up here and said if and when the road is finished, here is the plan for the road.”

She concluded says she would vote “flat no on Eminent Domain, no way.”

Mahrt said this was merely a point of discussion, where he was seeking direction from the council on how to proceed because of the funding opportunities. He said if the city did not want to use this as a tool, then they would have to find another method.

Hoefle asked about the funding: was it a use or lose scenario? Mahrt said he would investigate that, because he could not give an informed answer at this time.

Mahrt also reminded the council that this was a long term project that the city has invested in. He said yes there would be a local match from the city, and the final payout date if the project remains on schedule would be 2020.

[to top of second column]

Jeff Hoinacki is one of two aldermen who have been involved in the project for the past several years. He noted that there has been a lot of money and time invested in the project. He didn’t want it to just go away.

Tracy Welch said from what he’s reviewed he can’t see how much money has already been spent, but he didn’t want to fall into the pattern of belief that because the money has been spent the project has to keep going. He said it was wrong to think that way. The city can cut its losses. He added that he wasn’t saying to scrap the project all together, but he did think the city should consider shelving it. He noted that the city has a sewerage mandate coming up that they are going to be forced to finance, and there are other more immediate needs, such as the $1.2 million being spent on a new fire truck, and a new police station. He finished saying, “I want no part in taking people’s property away from them. I think the fact that they haven’t agreed to this already says quite a bit.”

Bauer said she wanted to clarify, “I am not anti-finishing this project. I am anti finishing this project without a plan.” She went on to say with the final pay out date of 2020, the city ultimately has some time to figure this all out.

Hoefle asked if this topic was coming up because of deadlines. Mahrt said it was. He explained that the Illinois Department of Transportation funding through STU funds ran in cycles. If the city misses this cycle of funding, then it could be years before it gets back on the cycle.

A representative from the engineering firm for the project, Crawford, Murphy, and Tilly was also on hand at the meeting. He clarified that the STU funding runs in a five year cycle, so yes missing this cycle could result in a lengthy delay.

He added that CMT is still working toward reaching agreements with all the property owners, but his question would be, if it gets down to the final two and they just refuse to sell, what will the city do then?

There was also a question of funding already received. If the city “shelves” or drops the project, are there dollars that will have to be given back to federal and state agencies?

Bauer asked if there was a protocol for the Mayor or members of the council to accompany CMT when they call on property owners. She said she thought that might be helpful, and she would be willing to go with the firm on those visits. The CMT representative said that yes that is acceptable, and the mayor or aldermen could accompany negotiators.

The representative went on to say that the price paid for the land is established through the funding sources and federal guidelines. He said there were cases were the property owner may be able to justify why he or she feels the land is worth more, and there is some leeway in the amount offered, but not a lot.

Mahrt said he was coming to realize that the council was not that well informed about this project. He said it was never his intention to introduce a topic that would lead to talks of killing the project. Mahrt said he felt aldermen needed to have a better understanding of the project, and he would work to see that happens.

He commented regarding Eminent Domain, “We can throw this out the window. It was a discussion item, but to throw out this project that so much effort and money has been put out and funding is already available to work towards would not be a recommendation that I would make.”

Keller said he felt the council does support the project, and does not want to throw it out, but that there is no need for Eminent Domain at this time.

Kathy Horn commented that when the foundation of the plan was laid out for the council, the majority of current city aldermen were not on the council. Of the eight present, only she and Hoinacki have been on hand for the past several years, and have worked on the project. The same is also true for the mayoral position.

The end result of the discussion was that there will not be a resolution for Eminent Domain for the council to consider. Also, Mahrt will work toward giving the council more information about the project and bringing all the aldermen up to speed on it. He will also fulfill a request from Welch to give an accounting of dollars spent to date on the project.

[Nila Smith]

Back to top