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New lawsuit challenges Mount Pleasant’s broad blight designation at Foxconn site

A group of homeowners filed a new lawsuit against Mount Pleasant on Tuesday, challenging the village’s decision in June to declare thousands of acres of farmland in Foxconn’s path blighted.

The homeowners argue village officials took an illegal step in early June when they designated about 2,800 acres of land in the village blighted. The blight designation is a step that could ultimately allow the village to use its eminent-domain powers to take land from holdout property owners. Local officials said in June that the decision could save the village millions of dollars by allowing Mount Pleasant to issue bonds that are exempt from state and federal taxes.

The village’s broad use of blight designations is unprecedented in Wisconsin, lawyers who specialize in eminent-domain law say. Local governments often reserve a blight designation for urban properties that are dilapidated or unsafe, not rural farmland. Work has just begun on Foxconn’s $10 billion Mount Pleasant factory, a project that is expected to employ 10,000 construction workers.

“Declaring prime Wisconsin farmland and lovingly maintained rural residences as blighted is fraudulent, arbitrary, and capricious and represents the (community development authority’s) will and not its judgment because it is clearly contrary to Wisconsin’s Blight Elimination and Slum Clearance law,” Erik S. Olsen, of Madison-based Eminent Domain Services, wrote in the complaint.

The complaint asks a Racine County judge to overturn the village’s blight designation. Mount Pleasant has not yet registered an attorney for the case.

Many of the homeowners in the case are the same ones who sued the village in federal court in January, arguing that the village’s going price for land — set at 140 percent of market value — was too low. A Milwaukee judge dismissed the suit, and the group appealed in late March.

Homeowners in the lawsuit filed Tuesday also argued that the village has been paying property owners inconsistently, offering those who own large swaths of land $50,000 an acre — 10 times market value — and paying those who own smaller properties just 140 percent of market value.

The suit claims that, earlier this month, the village paid $784,000 for a 1.7-acre site within the blighted area, nearly seven times the property’s $115,000 fair-market value. Homeowners also claimed that the village paid $5 million for a 100-acre farm in 2017, even though that land had been deemed just the previous year to be worth less than $500,000.

When Mount Pleasant approved the blight designation in June, local officials said they had acquired 80 percent of the land needed for all three phases of the project and 95 percent of the land needed for the first phase of the Foxconn factory. James Madlom, a spokesman for the village, said Tuesday that although the village has been acquiring property since early June, it could not provide an up-to-date total for its total acquisition.

Alan Marcuvitz, an attorney for the village of Mount Pleasant, was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday.

About Nate Beck, nbeck@dailyreporter.com

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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