Crossing a plan off the list?

Redevelopment, along with eminent domain fears, may evaporate

Aug. 17, 2010

Greenfield — The Common Council may call a special meeting in the next few weeks to consider putting a hold on plans to redevelop the Loomis Road/Interstate 894 area.

Those plans have generated some controversy. Many business owners in the 47-acre area eyed for a mixed-use project called Greenfield Crossing have said they are fearful the city will use eminent domain to acquire their properties. In fact, Greenfield officials have come under fire for not removing that element from the table.

The council may now discuss dropping redevelopment plans altogether, Mayor Michael Neitzke said.

"Among the council, there's a strong desire to just put this matter behind them," he said.

A question of domain

The city has declared that area "blighted," viewed as a key step in the eminent domain process.

Essentially, in eminent domain, a municipality can force the sale of properties for the purpose of redevelopment by a third party.

State Sen. Mary Lazich weighed in on the redevelopment discussions on Tuesday, saying she will introduce legislation clarifying state laws on eminent domain and the term "blight."

"The statutes have to be clear enough to protect property owners from unjust use of eminent domain and to protect local governments from the waste of time and money that accrues from the challenge and defeat of improper use of eminent domain," Lazich said.

In an interview, Lazich said many states have already addressed eminent domain laws following a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case in 2005, which allowed local governments to acquire properties through eminent domain and sell them to another private owner.

But this state isn't one of them, she said.

"Unfortunately in Wisconsin law, there's a loophole large enough for a herd of animals to jump through," she said, referring to the "blight" declaration.

Neitzke agreed with Lazich that changes are sorely needed, saying the city has few options when it comes to redeveloping a given area.

One business owner's plight

While the area under consideration is 47 acres, talks in the last week have centered on one property in particular - Bill Maynard's Auto Service, 4061 W. Loomis Road.

Alderwoman Linda Lubotsky last week released a statement saying the Maynard property should be excluded from the redevelopment plan. Others who spoke to the Community Development Authority on Monday said they feel the same way.

Reached Tuesday, Maynard said he is frustrated the city has not committed one way or another.

"We just want to stay, operate a profitable business, contribute to the community like we always have and just be left alone," Maynard said.

An attorney representing the Community Development Authority was directed Monday to contact all property owners and report back on negotiations in two weeks, Neitzke said.

Built-in delay

Any development could not happen for another three years because the state is using the Loomis Road Park-and-Ride as a staging area for the Interstate 94 construction project.

"That whole area is going to be used as a staging area for the state and there's nothing the city can do about that," Neitzke said. "Maybe it makes sense for the city just to wait until the state is out of there and see what the options are.

"Everyone would be disappointed we couldn't add valuable tax base to the city in the future and couldn't continue what folks were doing early on."

→ Your take: Readers comment online. Page 4

→ Our take: NOW editorial. Page 14

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