City to authorize condemnation for south redevelopment, consider relocation of tenants from project area

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The city commission likely will vote to use eminent domain for the south redevelopment project at its meeting tonight in City Hall.

The commission will vote on the second reading of an ordinance that would authorize the city to use condemnation to acquire seven of the 23 properties in the redevelopment. Dial Realty has reached agreements to acquire the other 16 properties, according to city staff.

City officials have said repeatedly the condemnation process is not absolute and can end any time a property owner wants to negotiate an agreement to sell. Ten properties were originally at risk of condemnation when the commission started work on this legislation, but agreements have been reached with three since that time.

Eminent domain comes from the last provision of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads, “… nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that using eminent domain to take land for economic development is not unconstitutional.

The city had planned on taking much more time before making these decisions, but a law passed by the Kansas Legislature last year forced its hand. The law ends the city’s ability to use eminent domain to buy property for economic development purposes on July 1.

Property acquisition and planning for the south redevelopment project have been sped up because of the deadline. The commission voted on a resolution declaring condemnation necessary on March 15 and approved the first reading of this ordinance last week.

The commissioners have stressed they hoped to avoid using eminent domain but were willing to use it as a last resort. They voted to use it on two property owners in the north redevelopment project last year.

Meetings where the project and condemnation came up attracted large audiences last month. Several of the property owners who are holding out spoke at the meetings and said they needed more than they were being offered.

Mike Conkwright, manager of Bud’s Auto Service, 301 Colorado St., delivered a slide presentation to the commission March 15 that detailed his family’s business and its assets. He said he would have to replace all of it if he was forced out by the redevelopment, but Dial hasn’t offered him enough to pay for the relocation.

“We are holding out for our way of life,” Conkwright said at the meeting. “Our livelihood is at stake.”

The commission also will discuss the implementation of relocation benefits for tenants living in the south redevelopment.

Residents in the south project are receiving financial benefits in return for having to move to make room for the redevelopment. The bonds to pay for these benefits are projected to be issued in May or June, according to city staff, but some of the soon-to-be-displaced residents have asked for the money earlier so they can move sooner.

The commission will consider taking some money from the downtown redevelopment fund to give to residents who are relocating or going out of business from the south project area, according to city staff. The money from the fund would be reimbursed once the bonds are issued.

Also up for consideration at tonight’s meeting is a bond ordinance worth $29 million for the Meadowlark Hills Retirement Community.

The commission approved a resolution of intent in November to issue up to $55 million in Health Care Facility Revenue Bonds for Meadowlark Hills, according to city staff. The community has been issued slightly more than $25 million so far.

If approved, the commission would vote on the second reading of this second round of bonds on April 17, according to city staff.

Meadowlark Hills plans to expand in four phases between spring 2007 and 2009. The expansions will include 26 independent living accommodations in 13 buildings and two skilled nursing households which should house 40 people.

The city is not loaning the money to Meadowlark Hills, just issuing the bonds. The money comes from a third-party trustee bank.

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