City of Oconomowoc to proceed with eminent domain of parcel for community center parking
City of Oconomowc - In a 4-3 vote Tuesday night, Common Council approved a resolution to proceed with establishing eminent domain of 219. W. Wisconsin Ave. Officials were presented with the option after Mayor Jim Daley said two years of negotiations with the property owner have been unsuccessful.
The owners of the property according to Waukesha County tax records are Ken Herro and John Haas. The resolution for condemnation of the property comes after the city failed to reach an agreement for binding arbitration regarding the parcel by 5 p.m. Tuesday, a deadline that had been extended from the same time the previous day.
The city is seeking the property directly across from the new community center for parking. The issue has been a hot-button topic in the city because the nearest public parking is about a football field away.
According to a timeline presented at the meeting by Director of Economic Development Bob Duffy, since 2010, the city has gone back and forth with the property owners over the value of the land. The city has assessed the land twice with the latest offer for $250,000 based on the assessment.
The property owners have argued that the land's value is upwards of $400,000. They have argued this based on claims that the property could be rezoned from its current residential to mixed-used commercial increasing the value by almost double.
In other parts of the two-year negotiation, the property owners have requested more than $400,000 for the parcel with around $100,000 of it being an "IRS gift" for the property.
They have also suggested the city pay more than $400,000 for the parcel and that they would establish and bed and breakfast elsewhere in the downtown Oconomowoc area adding value to the area and necessitating the increased price beyond the assessed value of the land.
After much discussion, Common Council passed the resolution to proceed with eminent domain. Alderman James Larsen, Cathleen Slattery and Mike Miller voted against the resolution. Slattery and Miller cited reasons of violating a property owner's rights. Slattery said she had concerns based on the unsuccessful outcome of the negotiations that the condemnation would proceed all the way to a jury trial which could mean the city is responsible for all of the losing parties' legal fees which could be about $100,000 each according to John Van Lieshout of Reinhart Attorneys at Law who has been hired to represent the city. The law states that if the jury award is 15 percent more than the asking price the winning party is responsible for all legal fees plus the price of the property.
"There are easy calls to make and there are tough ones and property rights are right up there with the toughest ones," said Daley in conclusion. "Over the last two years of looking for an alternative and not finding one," this is how the city must proceed, he continued.
Watch for more on this story in Thursday's Oconomowoc Focus.
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