By Katie Dahlstrom
The city of Clinton will seize 21.5 acres of a Clinton resident’s property through eminent domain, Clinton City Council members decided Tuesday.
During the regular City Council meeting, the council approved a resolution to use eminent domain to acquire property owned by Tim and Annette Bice near Cragmor and Lakewood drives in order to add to Eagle Point Park.
The property in question falls one foot shy of the drive south of the castle and encompasses part of the parking lot in the same area on the south end of the park.
The move to get the property through eminent domain came after negotiations between the Bices and the city failed.
Ward 1 Councilwoman Maggie Klaes cast the lone dissenting vote to start the eminent domain proceedings, citing she did not believe in the government function that allows the city to take private property for public purpose or public improvements. At-large Councilwoman Jennifer Graf was absent.
Before the vote, the council held a public hearing in which three residents, including Tim’s father Merle Bice, spoke out against the city’s use of eminent domain. The city also received a petition with 90 signatures in support of the city acquiring the property.
“One of my questions is, why now? Why didn’t the city purchase this property when it was for sale. And why didn’t the city use eminent domain with the previous owner?” resident Mike Yackshaw asked.
The Bices purchased the property from a trust in 2010, beating an offer from the city. At the time, the sale price was roughly $50,000, according to City Attorney Jeff Farwell.
The Bices then tried to access the property, which they planned to use for logging, hunting, building a house or a potential subdivision, although the practicality of the latter has been questioned.
However, the Bices were denied vehicular access along the unimproved right-of-way into the property. The couple filed suit against the city in 2012 regarding the access issue.
That suit, which was slated to go to trial in September, is on hold pending the eminent domain proceedings, Farwell said.
Joe Thyne, also a Clinton resident, pointed to the city’s loss of tax dollars that will occur if the city owns the property. He also brought up Bice’s development plan that includes more than 25 lots on the property and the potential tax revenue that would be generated.
“If you eminent domain it, make it part of the park, you’re not going to get any of it,” Thyne said.
During the course of the lawsuit, the city received Tim’s plat of the potential subdivision for the property, which would be accessed from the western right-of-way.
“Some of the houses, their backyards would be right into Eagle Point Park,” Farwell said.
Resident John Totten, who also works for Clinton Engineering, shared his experience with the property, which contains a large ravine and several finger ravines. He said the city has an easement in one of the finger ravines that is experiencing erosion and would need to be addressed. However, he said thick vegetation makes access to the easement difficult.
Although city ownership of the property would allow it more time to repair the erosion, Totten didn’t offer unwavering support to the acquisition.
“In some ways it would be nice to own that property. With the erosion of our city finances, I’m not sure now’s the right time,” he said.
As part of the eminent domain, the city will need to pay the “fair market value” for the property. The resolution approved Tuesday also calls for the city to hire an attorney for the eminent domain proceedings. City Administrator Jessica Kinser did not know how much money would be allocated to secure the property.
Totten also asserted several of the neighbors in the area use the unimproved right-of-way area to bolster their backyards, but should be kept clear for access in and out of the property.
“If we buy it, I think that’s not right. I think that should go back to the city, should become part of the park ground if you plant prairie grass or whatever. It’s not fair to let certain taxpayers use park ground and backyards,” Totten said.
Further, he added, the city should fence off the area in order to prevent neighbors from dumping yard waste there.
None of neighbors attended the meeting. The Bices also did not attend.
Councilman John Rowland said owning the property would be for the betterment of the community.
“The property should have been bought years ago for that south access to the park. It should have and it didn’t happen,” Rowland said. “I think that it’s right and a good thing to do to initiate the eminent domain to acquire this property. It will be better served to the whole community if we do it.”