Category Archives: Eminent Domain

Starting the Fight Against the Newton TIF

When I used to have more time on more hands (or more energy for my time) I did some blogging about eminent domain issues. One of those blog entries received a comment a few days ago that I wanted to address:

I appreciated your article on the TIF struggle in Des Planes. In Newton, IL, the mayor and his rubber stamp council (seven of eight) are making plans to establish a TIF district. I do not think that it can be legally done, but need help.

I’d love to help, but for a legal fight, you’re going to need help from a lawyer with experience fighting TIFs. I’ll get back to this.

I have read that the first prerequisite for a TIF is that it must occupy an area that, by statute, is blighted. The proposed district includes a strip of territory a block or more wide on either side of our two main streets (the business district); the public square and adjacent territory; and the “Pale Jumbo” Industrial Park (which has never had an occupant). There is no possible way that this, or any area our little country town of about 3,100 population, contains five of the necessary conditions to be, by statutory definition, blighted.

You’d think, and you’d hope, but it’s not so straightforward. The TIF act requires five factors out of a possible 13, and it’s not that hard to meet them. Cities hire law firms and consultants who are experts at putting together arguments in favor of TIFs. They’re really good at it. Take a look at the presentation from the consultants who put together the Des Plaines TIF. (Related documents are also available on the Des Plaines web site.)

Some of the 13 factors are vague and not that hard to establish. The easiest is probably Lack of Community Planning. In other words, if the town government has never interfered in an area before, that automatically gives them one of the five factors needed to interfere with it now.

Another factor is Excessive Vacancies. The unused industrial park alone probably meets this qualification. Heck, the International Plaza shopping mall in Arlington Heights was over 90% occupied, and it was still grabbed for a TIF.

The town government has two big advantages in declaring an area blighted. First of all, they can influence some of these factors in their favor. For example, they can refuse to allow curb cuts and zoning variances, and then they can argue that the property has a Deleterious Layout that’s not good for anything. Also, just by attempting to declare a TIF, they can discourage tenants from moving in, and they can discourage property owners from maintaining their property, leading to Excessive Vacancies and Deterioration.

The second advantage the town has is that they get to define the TIF district. So, for example, they can meet the requirements for lower-than-average property values (already true by definition for half the town) by choosing properties carefully. Combine a thriving corner restaurant with the empty building next door, and they get to take them both.

The proposed district also includes twelve acres adjacent to the city that the mayor proposes to purchase. This acreage was a bean field last season, and though it is slow to drain it is not chronically flooded; I feel certain that it can not be considered blighted. Are these fact alone sufficient to defeat the proposition? What should I do?

The town doesn’t have to prove that every single property meets the five-factor test, just all the properties combined. So, one polluted property, one dilapidated property, one obsolete property…

If you have any literature, suggestions or tips that you can let me have, I will certainly appreciate it. Also, if you know of anyone who is knowledgeable on the subject and who lives in the vicinity of Newton and would speak on behalf of the opposition at a hearing, please give me his name and address.

So far, I’m just trying to scare you into action. Now you want actual help?

The number one resource for all things eminent domain is The Castle Coalition, which is part of the Institute for Justice, the public-interest law firm that fought the Kelo case into the Supreme Court. They probably can’t give you legal help—there are too many cases and too few lawyers at the IJ—but their survival guide explains how to find lawyers and mount a public offensive against eminent domain abuse.

It’s important to keep in mind that although the main action is the legal battle, the war against an eminent domain abuse takes place on a much larger front. You need to try to win the battle for people’s hearts and minds, to put pressure on the town government.

Even more important, you need to try to shut off the money. In many cases, the town already has investors lined up to receive the property, often because the investors are pushing for the eminent domain action for their own benefit. You need to try to drum up bad publicity against the investors and subject the project to long delays to encourage them to do something else with their money.

Finding a way to get the developer out of the picture will often end the active eminent domain effort, even if you can’t win the legal battle. I know of a couple of cases where the prospect of delay and public ill-will caused the money to back out of the deal. The TIF districts are still there, and some actions are still pending in court, but without the money, nobody is actually pushing for the eminent domain action to continue.

So, start with the Castle Coalition Survival Guide and let me know what happens.

Kelo Day

Kelo Day - June 23, 2008

Arg! I totally forgot to mention that today is Kelo Day!

Susette Kelo and the Institute for Justice are trying to moneybomb the eminent domain abuse issue by getting 10,000 people to donate a few bucks each today.

Make your donations here. Or at least go read what it’s all about.

Des Plaines TIF: A Strange Mix

Right on the south edge of the central triangle in the Des Plaines Five Corners/River-Rand TIF zone is a small group of odd buildings.

Odd Group of Buildings
Larger ImageOdd Group of Buildings

This is the only part of the inner triangle (and the only part of the TIF district I’ve shown you) that looks like a common-sense definition of blighted, especially when seen from behind:

Rear of Run-Down Buildings
Larger ImageRear of Run-Down Buildings

Really, that does look a bit run down. But it looks like the sort of thing that could be fixed with a few hundred thousand dollars worth of construction, not a $120 million TIF district.

The lack of maintenance is not the only thing that bothers TIF advocates, however. They also seem to hate mixed-use land. That is, they want buffer zones between commercial and residential properties. I have to admit it’s a little odd finding this home surrounded by restaurants and landscaping contractors, transmission shops and plumbing stores:

Larger ImageResidence

It would probably be pretty odd having a home in the middle of a commercial district like this, but isn’t it up to the homeowners to make that kind of decision?

Right next to that home is Rosario Cassata Landscaping & Cement Contractor.

Rosario Cassata Landscaping & Cement Contractor
Larger ImageRosario Cassata Landscaping & Cement Contractor

And next to that is Northwest Kennels & Doggie Day Care. (See the dog in the window?) This is probably the most run-down of the buildings.

Northwest Kennels & Doggie Day Care
Larger ImageNorthwest Kennels & Doggie Day Care

Note that the utility service—gas meters and power lines—all come from the front of the buildings, as would be typical in rural areas. These are obviously not the fine buildings you typically find in a modern suburban commercial district.

In some ways, this is classic so-called “blight” that TIF proponents are always trying to get rid of: Older buildings that aren’t very flashy, containing small businesses that aren’t well-known names.

Politicians are always selling themselves, and they all love to say they run the kind of town that brings in a Target or a Circuit City or even a Potbelly’s. I guess very few of them see the value in running the kind of town where Rosario Cassata decided to setup his small landscaping business, or where Bob and Trish decided to run their well-cared-for little bar.

Bob and Trish's New Beginnings
Larger ImageBob and Trish's New Beginnings
Bob and Trish's New Beginnings
Larger ImageBob and Trish's New Beginnings

The ladder and other stuff is out there because I took this picture late last year while someone (Bob, I’m guessing) was putting up Christmas lights.

Christmas at Bob and Trish's
Larger ImageChristmas at Bob and Trish's

Good News In the International Plaza TIF Battle

I’ve been meaning to comment on this, but Cal Skinner beat me to it. Graydon Megan is reporting in the Chicago Tribune that the deal between Arlington Heights and Target Corporation is in the toilet.

“Target has realized, I think, with the passage of time, increased costs and the pending lawsuits, it doesn’t make economic sense for them to proceed under our own redevelopment agreement,” Village Atty. Jack Siegel said before the board meeting Monday night.

Target representative Brie Heath said the decision was based on economics.

“While we continue to be interested in an additional Target store in Arlington Heights, we have mutually agreed with the village to withdraw our project,” Heath said.

The village of Arlington Heights hasn’t actually cancelled the TIF district, but this hurts them a lot because they don’t have a buyer standing by for the property. I’ve seen other eminent domain projects fall apart when the money went away.

Ron Popp, an owner of Arlin-Golf Plaza, said the shadow of the TIF hanging over the area has kept his center nearly vacant.

He’s not kidding:

Arlin-Golf Plaza
Larger ImageArlin-Golf Plaza

“When they hear about a TIF, they back away,” he said of potential owners and tenants.

Popp has long disputed the designation of his property as blighted.

“Our [center] was completely rehabbed,” he said. “It’s kind of sad that they have to starve you out. I bet I could clear out Woodfield [shopping center] with the same tactics.”

Probably, once all the stores look like this Arlin-Golf vacancy:

Vacant Storefront
Larger ImageVacant Storefront

Part of the village’s justification for the TIF is the lack of tax revenue from the property. How much revenue have they lost due to the vacancies they helped create? How much did they spend to do the TIF study? How high is their legal bill?

Village sources said total project costs, including those related to the bond sale and legal expenses, have not been tabulated.

Yeah, that would probably be embarassing.

In response to complaints from tax district tenants and owners about a lack of concern for their future, village officials said they have worked with businesses in four other tax districts, helping them remain in a new development or relocate within the village.

God, the arrogance. The village helped businesses “remain in a new development.” Would that be a new development on the property the village had just taken from them? The property they had been using for years already before the village got involved?

Anyway, International Plaza remains standing for now.

International Plaza
Larger ImageInternational Plaza

Des Plaines TIF: Jimmy’s Restaurant

The Des Plaines TIF is so huge that I’ve got to start posting more pictures or I’ll never get done. So here’s a few pictures from Jimmy’s Restaurant, another property threatened by eminent domain in the Des Plaines Five Corners/River-Rand TIF District.

Jimmy's Restaurant
Larger ImageJimmy's Restaurant

As you can see, Jimmy has been pretty active in the TIF opposition effort.

There may be some actual blight in the Des Plaines TIF zone, but you won’t find any of it at Jimmy’s. The owner spent a lot remodeling the interior. I couldn’t take too many pictures with all the customers there, but check out the interior:

Dining Area
Larger ImageDining Area

Even the back of the building is well-maintained:

Clean In Back
Larger ImageClean In Back

Sam Adams Alliance on International Plaza

I’ve been a little too busy to blog much about eminent domain issues, so take a look at what the Sam Adams Alliance has to say about International Plaza.

In July of 2002, the Village of Arlington Heights, Illinois handed down a bogus “blighted” designation to the International Plaza, a local shopping center, in order to bulldoze it and put up a Super Target store. This move would boost the Village’s tax revenue considerably. It would also trample personal freedoms, private property rights, and many of these business owners’ livelihoods.

The article includes contact information for Target and a sample letter.

Des Plaines TIF: Suburban Transmission

Here’s another property threatened by eminent domain in the Des Plaines Five Corners/River-Rand TIF District. The last two businesses I blogged about, the Geiser-Berner plumbing shop and the corner BP Gas Station are both inside what I’m calling the Inner Triangle, the region bounded on the east by River Road, on the southwest by Rand Road, and on the north by the Union Pacific railroad tracks. Directly between those two properties is the Suburban Transmission building.

Suburban Transmission
Larger ImageSuburban Transmission

Judging by the number of cars (and the number of signs) this is a thriving business. Actually, if you take a close look at the next photo (click through to the larger image), you can see that this building is an auto repair mini-mall containing Suburban Transmissions, Fair Muffler Shops, and ReNew Auto Body.

It's an Auto Repair Mini-Mall
Larger ImageIt's an Auto Repair Mini-Mall

Wait, look at this picture:

AJ's Auto Repairs
Larger ImageAJ's Auto Repairs

I can make out signs for AJ’s Auto Repairs, so that’s four businesses that face major disruptions if this property is condemned. How blighted can this property be if four businesses thought it was a good idea to squeeze themselves into it?

I wish I’d paid more attention to this when I was there. I’d like to talk to the owners and make sure this is really four businesses. It could just be a bunch of different services provided by the same company, kind of like those KFC-Taco Bell places.

I’m guessing that an auto-repair business puts a lot of thought and effort into adapting the building to its needs. It’s probably fascinating. I’d like to get inside to take pictures.

(Visit the previous Des Plaines entry.)