10/25/2004

City may resort to eminent domain — (Dallas-Ft Worth TX) Star-Telegram, 10/25/04

By Robert Cadwallader

Beyond the trees and pond and the wandering cattle on Wanda Allen's property, the city [of Mansfield TX] is preparing for the biggest economic-development project it has ever undertaken.

The city says it needs a piece of her property to complete its vision of a 100-acre development that would include a Big League Dreams baseball complex, retail and commercial uses and upscale apartments and town homes at U.S. 287 and East Broad Street.

But the 67-year-old is refusing to sell the 2 1/2 acres the city wants. If she doesn't, officials say, they have no choice but to try to take it.

"I don't have my land up for sale, for one thing," said Allen, who turns 68 this week. "This is where I raised my family. And I don't want a Big League Dreams in my backdoor."

Allen has turned down the project developer's offer of more than $400,000 for the 2 1/2 acres at the back of her property, which the city considers crucial to keeping the development on track. With that offer now expired, the City Council has decided to make a final offer to Allen — a market-value figure of about $60,000.

If she rejects that, the city will seek to force her to sell by initiating eminent-domain proceedings, under which a city may take property for the betterment of the community.

The confrontation has rallied Allen's neighbors and others. They are hoping for a large turnout at tonight's City Council meeting to speak out against the eminent-domain threat and the project itself. The issue is not on the agenda for consideration at the 7 p.m. meeting at City Hall, 1200 E. Broad St., but residents are allowed to speak at the beginning of council meetings.

"It was a hard decision," said Councilman Marvin Kahlden, who voted with a 5-2 council majority Oct. 11 for making the final offer. "We had to consider the benefits for all the citizens of Mansfield and the quality of life it was going to bring."

The city said it needs about 6 acres from Allen and two other Carlin Road residents to complete the land acquisition needed for the ball fields. City Manager Clayton Chandler said that the other two residents had signed contracts to sell and that Allen was the only holdout. But one of the two owners, Steve Nelson, said Sunday that he is still negotiating.

Gene and Ann Robertson said they turned down $600,000 for 3 1/2 acres, which prompted planners to tweak the design to exclude their property.

The Big League Dreams facility, which will be owned by the city and privately operated and maintained, is the 40-acre centerpiece of the project. Allen's case has rekindled complaints about the deal, including that its approval in April followed little public discussion. Officials said most of their work — pursuing land acquisition and commercial investment — required secrecy.

Several officials of youth sports groups still have lingering concerns, including tougher limits on alcohol sales at games. "There is some tweaking needed," said Greg Kunasek, a youth-league coach.

Landing the $22 million baseball complex quickly sparked developer interest in the adjoining 60 acres. The 60-acre mixed-use development, when built out years from now, would generate about $6 million annually in sales taxes and property taxes, said Laurie Gillespie, the city economic-development director.

The city already owns some land for the project that used to belong to Allen. She sold 26 acres to a residential developer early this year for $1.1 million, and the developer sold it to the city for about $1.4 million.

Two council members — Mary Ann Johnston and Tracy Doyle — voted against the council action to threaten a forced sale of Allen's 2 1/2 acres.

"I don't believe the government should be able to go through eminent domain for commercial purposes," Doyle said.

Several residents cited a pending Supreme Court case on the authority of a city to take land for use in a private venture. But Mansfield city attorneys assured the council that the case would have no bearing here because the land the city is pursuing is for the Big League Dreams facility — which will be owned by the city — and not for the adjoining commercial development.

City Councilman Jeff Newberry said the stakes are high in the Mansfield project.

"Sometimes eminent domain is a necessary evil."


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