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City won't use eminent domain to acquire farmland

June 1, 2010

The Common Council has halted discussions on whether to use eminent domain to acquire a 94-year-old man's farm at 10523 S. Howell Ave.

The council Tuesday night voted unanimously to discontinue the process to determine whether the property is blighted under Wisconsin law. Declaring the property blighted would have paved the way for the city to use its powers of eminent domain on the 25-acre property.

Mayor Dick Bolender last week asked aldermen to stop discussions after it had become apparent a mutual agreement between the city and family of Earl Giefer family was not forthcoming.

A public hearing scheduled for Wednesday before the Community Development Authority has been canceled.

Discussions between the city and Giefer's attorney have been ongoing since 2008. Giefer's niece, Edna Adams, said the farm has been in the family since the 1800s and that family members have no interest in selling.

Some city officials believe the farm legally qualifies as "blight," which would allow the city to use eminent domain and acquire the property at fair-market value.

They said the farm impeded Wispark LLC's efforts to develop a business park and by putting it back on the property tax rolls, it would ease residents' tax burden.

However, a backlash ensued after the Community Development Authority scheduled a public hearing on the issue and the topic was discussed on talk radio, local blogs and OakCreekNOW.com.

Alderman Ken Gehl, whose district encompasses the farm, said the opinion among everyone he spoke to was "nearly universal" that eminent domain was not the right way to proceed.

Rather, the city needs to work out a fair negotiated agreement, Gehl said.

City Attorney Lawrence Haskin said in a memo to council members that if they voted to end discussions, city staff plans to enforce all applicable city codes to bring the property into compliance with local law.

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