Eminent Domain Sought For Ice House

The News Dispatch, January 19, 2008

MICHIGAN CITY - An obstacle in the city's plans to redevelop the North End could become moot soon after a lawsuit was filed to condemn two properties near Michigan Boulevard and Eighth Street.

Michigan City Redevelopment Commission Attorney Michael Bergerson said Friday he'd filed the suit last week in La Porte Superior Court 3.

The city wants condemned the Weber Sign property, 730 E. Eighth St., and property known as "the ice house," owned by Thomas and Florence Sobkowiak, 748 Michigan Blvd.

The city has tried for more than two years to purchase the properties - two of only three holdouts remaining in a string of properties needed for North End redevelopment.

Owners of Blocksom, a factory complex near Michigan Boulevard and Fifth Street, are in discussions with the city for an anticipated sale and relocation of the facility.

The Webers and Sobkowiaks, however, have refused to budge, as has the city. Bergerson's request for an eminent domain judgment, he said, is the last step in an arduous process.

The city is offering the Webers and Sobkowiaks $1 each for their properties. Bergerson said the offer is fair - in the eyes of the court - because the land under both properties is "highly contaminated."

"We can't pay for property that's also contaminated beyond its value," he said. "They can't sell it and they're living in a dream world if they think the taxpayers of Michigan City want to pay for a property and pay to clean it up."

Glenn Kuchel, the Hammond attorney representing Bill and Kathy Weber, the owners of Weber Sign, said Friday the offer of $1 isn't fair.

If condemnation is granted, an appraiser will settle on values for both properties and offer that amount to the owners. If the owners object to the price, the city will issue a deed and take the properties, but will still debate price with the owners.

-In reading the article and the claim of a “$1” value, one has to wonder whether the community fully understands the choices an owner has even with contaminated property. This is a court filing which was “rushed to judgment,” by the writer of the article, premised on comments of the community. Without question, the writer was not fairly notified of the owners' rights in this particular factual setting.