Mount Prospect leaders haven't relied on eminent domain very often in the recent past, but that hasn't stopped the issue from surfacing in this year's campaign for village trustee.
Eminent domain is a legislative tool that allows governments to acquire land for the public good. Mount Prospect has approved use of this tool just a handful of times since 1990, officials said.
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Carl Arriaza, one of six people running for three open spots on the Mount Prospect village board, has pointed to the most recent example as a case of bad public leadership.
The village initiated eminent domain proceedings in 2007 in an attempt to acquire property on Busse Avenue in the downtown area. The property owner fought the effort. In 2010, faced with years of fruitless negotiations and a collapsed real estate market, the village abandoned the attempt.
The property owner, meanwhile, filed a civil racketeering suit against the village that continues to move through the courts.
Arriaza said the village was wrong to try to acquire the property in the first place and now has put local taxpayers on the hook for what could be a sizable legal bill. Arriaza said that if elected, he would "respect property rights."
"The village shouldn't take property from a private owner just to hand it to another private owner," Arriaza said. "Now the village is in court and the case could end up costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. That's bad leadership by the trustees."
This year's village board race consists of three incumbents and three challengers. The election is April 9.
Trustee Michael Zadel is the only incumbent who was on the board when it voted to initiate eminent domain proceedings on the Busse Avenue property.
"Eminent domain should only be used as a very last resort," he said. "That's the situation we were in then. We hadn't been able to find common ground with the owner."
The village had planned to sell the property for redevelopment, part of its ongoing effort to remake the downtown area. There was a big public benefit at stake, Zadel said.
As for the legal case still pending, Zadel said the village has an obligation to defend itself in court.
"We didn't bring that action forth," he said.
The other incumbents in the race, trustees John Matuszak and Steven Polit, said they're surprised Arriaza has made an issue of eminent domain, given that it's been used so infrequently in Mount Prospect.
"How is this an issue?" Matuszak said. "There are no active eminent domain efforts. There are no plans to initiate any new ones." Both Matuszak and Polit pointed out that they voted to rescind the eminent domain effort in 2010.
John Dyslin, like Arriaza a challenger in the race, said that while he doesn't consider eminent domain a huge issue, it's one that's worth discussing.
"I realize that Mount Prospect hasn't done much of this, but the last one is going to cost taxpayers lots of money," he said. "I think that was mishandled."
Kevin Grouwinkel, the third challenger, said that because he wasn't privy to the discussions leading to the 2007 eminent domain vote, he doesn't feel like he can comment on that decision. He said that in general, eminent domain is a valid tool, though one that should be used judiciously.
"The successful completion of our downtown plan is a huge priority for me, and with important projects like that, sometimes a village needs to rely on eminent domain," he said. "So far, I don't see much evidence that suggests this village has been careless with it."