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Madison could extend olive branch to owners

An artist’s rendering shows the proposed senior housing development Verona-based Horizon Development Group LLC intends to build in Madison’s Burr Oaks neighborhood. (Rendering courtesy of the city of Madison)

An artist’s rendering shows the proposed senior housing development Verona-based Horizon Development Group LLC intends to build in Madison’s Burr Oaks neighborhood. (Rendering courtesy of the city of Madison)

By Paul Snyder

Regret over how Madison treated four property owners is fueling a proposal to help them after the city demolishes their apartment buildings to make way for senior housing.

“These properties were their long-term investments,” said Stuart Levitan, a member of Madison’s Community Development Authority. “What we’re doing interrupts their long-term life and business plans.

“Am I late in asking for this? Yes. I’m disappointed I didn’t think of it a long time ago. But better late than never.”

Levitan said he wants city staff members to help the owners, who are losing a combined seven apartment buildings in the Burr Oaks neighborhood, find other properties in the city to manage.

The offer is too late to really mean anything, said Lue Thao, one of the property owners.

“For the kind of money we’re being offered,” he said, “it’s going to be hard to find other property in the city.”

Madison wants to buy the seven properties, tear them down and use the land for a new senior living center, which will be developed in three phases by Verona-based Horizon Development Group LLC. The city is trying to close the deal in time to submit applications in mid-March for state tax credits.

Madison’s 2009 budget authorized $3 million to acquire the buildings, which would more than cover the properties’ combined assessed value. Yet in its three offers to each owner, the city has not matched the assessed values.

The low offers stemmed from the downturned real estate market. Each of the first two offers was rejected.

Two of the property owners, John Lucille and David Hammonds, accepted the city’s third and final offer and will close the deal next week. The other two, Thao and Nedra Bobo, have until Wednesday to decide.

“If they don’t accept by Wednesday, it’s deemed a rejection and the CDA has directed us to move forward with acquisition of the properties,” said Dan Rolfs, the city’s community development project manager.

Levitan said he could fight to make the city pay the assessed value, but he doubts other CDA members would support him.

“If I want to revisit the issue,” he said, “I have to do it in a way other than talking about the assessed values.”

According to state eminent domain law, the city can make one offer and then make a compensatory award and take the property if the offer is rejected.

Rolfs said if the two unaccepted offers are rejected, the compensatory awards likely would be close, if not equal, to the final offer for each property.

Thao said Thursday he is discussing with his attorney whether to accept the city’s $800,000 offer for his two buildings. The assessed value for his properties is $826,000.

Even though the city’s offer of $688,000 was $65,000 less than the assessed value of his three buildings, Lucille said he wanted out of the battle.

“Me and my wife were tired of the rigmarole,” he said. “It still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It’s one of the worst processes I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Each owner has the right to sue the city for the assessed value, but Lucille said it’s not worth spending thousands on attorney fees.

Levitan acknowledged the low offers make Madison look bad.

“I do believe that our offers were within the parameters of the statute and were legal and defensible,” he said. “But in retrospect, I think we should’ve offered the assessed values, and I regret that I did not fight harder to get that.”

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