UPDATE: Despite a number of neighbors opposing the move, the Mount Pleasant Community Development Authority voted 6 to 1 in favor of designating several properties as blighted, according to a story by the Journal Times.
The Mount Pleasant Village Board is expected to take up the matter at its next meeting.
ORIGINAL STORY: The Foxconn development project continues to move forward despite several residents in the Village of Mount Pleasant who say they are waiting for fair offers before agreeing to sell. And, despite images and public comments on news sites to the contrary, these property owners say they aren’t against Foxconn, they just don’t want to give away their homes.
Kim and Jim Mahoney moved into their new construction home in February 2017 and say they are willing to sell, but not at the price the village is offering. Because they haven’t signed on the dotted line just yet and their home lies outside the boundary for eminent domain, the Mahoneys could find their property – one acre and their 1,700 square foot home – condemned using a loophole in state law.
The Mahoney’s aren’t part of the federal lawsuit that was dismissed last week. Where their property is located doesn’t qualify them as neighbors impacted by any of the infrastructure projects, which means Mount Pleasant officials can’t condemn the property through its eminent domain law.
Still, Alan Marcuvitz, one of the attorneys for the Village of Mount Pleasant, said he was pleased with the court’s decision to dismiss the case. But the village will continue to acquire the remaining properties through “voluntary agreements with property owners.”
“To-date, that approach has enabled the Village to acquire 100% of the land in the core section of Area 1, as well as 80% of the land in the entire project area – Areas 1, 2 and 3 – all through voluntary agreement with property owners,” he stated in an email.
But if the Village tries to designate their homes blighted on Wednesday, they have vowed to file another lawsuit.
State law requires blight determination in certain cases
There are more than eight property owners — including the ones that filed the lawsuit — that have yet to reach an agreement with the Village.
Under the state’s Blight Elimination and Clearance Act, properties can be purchased for redevelopment or urban renewal projects for fair market value. But the properties would need to be designated as blighted first.
“That’s the sticking point,” Kim pointed out in a recent conversation with Racine County Eye. “The village says they are offering 140% of our home’s value and that is supposed to make us whole where we can buy a similar a home or have one built, but it won’t.”
The most recent offer to the Mahoneys was extended a couple of weeks ago, but Kim said it was still too low.
Kim points out that to find an acre in a semi-rural subdivision, her family would have to move west of I-94, making it necessary for their daughter to switch schools and adding considerable time to both Kim’s and Jim’s commutes into the greater Racine area. Additionally, Kim said these factors also come into play:
- A similar rural subdivision requires a house of no less than 2,250 square feet. The Mahoney’s current home is 1,700 square feet and cost much less to build than the required home with the same finishes in the new subdivision.
- A bigger house also means a bigger property tax bill; the Mahoney’s tax bill would increase from $6,000 per year to $11,000 per year.
- The subdivisions Kim and Jim have investigated also require homeowner association fees, something the Mahoneys do not currently have to pay.
All told, the Mahoneys would need $849,000 in order for them to find or build a house so they can live in a similar community to where they live in Mount Pleasant.
“Some of our neighbors have been fine finding homes on a third of an acre, but that’s not what we want,” she added. “But I want people to know that I don’t blame Foxconn, I blame all of this on the village and the consultants they’ve hired.”
Homeowner critical of appraisal process
Specifically, Kim said Pitts Brothers and Associates, the firm contracted by the village to appraise properties and make purchase offers, rejected the Mahoney’s independent appraisal by Forensic Appraisal, a firm that specializes in condemnation and eminent domain issues.
“Because our home is new, it hasn’t had any time to appreciate so Pitts is saying we can’t get as much,” Kim continued. “Our land has doubled in value, but Pitts doesn’t appraise it that way.”
The Mahoneys and several of their neighbors are prepared to take the village to court if on May 9 trustees vote to declare their area as blighted. Legal experts like Ed Fallone, an associate professor with the Marquette University Law School, pointed out that state statute prohibits occupied, single family homes and not in a high-crime area from being declared blighted.
“Wisconsin modified its law to provide that unblighted property cannot be taken by eminent domain (Wis. Stat. section 32.03(6)(a)&(b)), and an argument can be made that it defeats the purpose of this amendment if Racine defines ‘blight’ so broadly,” Fallone said.
Federal lawsuit dismissed
A federal lawsuit filed by seven property owners was dismissed Wednesday by U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Adelman who said that because the village hasn’t yet condemned the land, the plaintiffs don’t have yet what they need to proceed with the suit, a story in the Milwaukee Business Journal reads.
By dismissing this suit, homeowners can still file in state court should the blight designation go through. If they do file a new lawsuit, there is every chance the Foxconn project will stall, something Kim says they are really not interested in doing.
“We’re not against Foxconn, and we’re willing to sell, but we’re not going to let them take our house through eminent domain,” Kim stated. “If the village were to make us an offer using our appraisal and their formula, we would sell today.”