Eminent domain struggle between Dubuque and business owner - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Eminent domain struggle between Dubuque and business owner

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Perry Pickel gestures toward the nearby vacant lots he wonders why the city isn't choosing for building its public amenities Perry Pickel gestures toward the nearby vacant lots he wonders why the city isn't choosing for building its public amenities
DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

It's a stipulation of the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution that private property not be "taken for public use, without just compensation."

The City of Dubuque is offering business owner Perry Pickel compensation. Pickel is arguing, it's not enough.

Pickel owns 16th Street Auto in Dubuque. It falls within the master plan for the America's River III: Bee Branch Creek Restoration and Gateway Project.

In his office Thursday afternoon, City of Dubuque civil engineer Deron Muehring explained why the city wants Pickel's property.

"For that type of project, we needed public parking, we needed public restrooms, we needed a maintenance facility on site," Muehring said.

For those amenities, he said, the city chose Pickel's property, which contains the business and a house Pickel rents to a family of two.

"How do you force eminent domain on somebody that's paying taxes for something as a want?" Pickel said at 16th Street Auto Thursday. "They want my property. They don't need my property."

Pickel said the city has two maintenance garages already near his property. He also said there are other places - currently vacant lots nearby - on which the city could build the facilities. Just down the road from Pickel's business, in fact, the city has property for lease.

"They already own. Vacant. Nothing on it," Pickel said. "Why don't they put their facility there?"

"For many reasons, those properties have been ruled out," Muehring said. "Maybe the configuration of the lot, the shape of the lot, the size of the lot, where they are in relation to things, and so the ultimate decision was that the Pickel property, along with these other ones, was best suited for this city need."

Muehring said the city has acquired more than 90 properties as part of the public project.

The city appraised the value of Pickel's property.

"I think, total, it's about $370,000 that we've offered him," Muehring said: about $300,000 for the business and $70,000 for the home.

For Pickel, however, it's more than just a dollar amount.

"I'm not asking for an open checkbook. All I'm asking for is what I have. I want to be replaced what I have. I should not be forced into something substandard or on some street corner," Pickel said. "I bought this on 16th Street for three reasons: heavy industrial, I built a new building, and the traffic flow."

With the price the city is offering, Pickel said, it would be extremely difficult to find a property and building equal to what he currently has. He built the building for his business in 2003.

"To be a dismantler or to be a parts yard, scrapper, you need heavy industrial," Pickel said, referring to the zoning of his business property.

"We've actually identified some properties for him to consider," Muehring said. "He could hire a realtor, and that would be a reimbursable expense the city could compensate him for. I mean, ultimately, it's up to him to find the place."

"I understand we want to beautify 16th Street," Pickel said. "All fine and dandy, but why should it be at my expense? Why should I be put out of business? Because if the city takes me to eminent domain and does not offer me any more money, 16th Street Auto is out of business."

"We've offered him, you know, what the licensed appraisal said the property was worth," Muehring said. "We have to try to be fair to Mr. Pickel, you know, and offer him what the value of his property is. At the same time, we have to be fair to Dubuque citizens, who are ultimately paying for this project."

Pickel, he said, is the only property owner whose property is now entering into the eminent domain stage. One other property owner, Muehring said, has not yet signed a purchase agreement. Muehring also added, the city is still negotiating with Canadian Pacific Railway, since their rail runs through the public project.

"His position he's taken has been unique," Muehring said. "He took the position that the city needs to find him a property exactly like his, that has to have the same size, has to be the same age, same traffic count, the same zoning, you know, so we pointed out that this isn't really practical and it isn't something we're required to do. At the same time, we've allowed extra time to try to allow for him to find that."

"My place was not for sale," Pickel said. "They want it. Why should I have to suffer? Why should I be forced out with eminent domain?"

Pickel said he thinks part of the city's insistence on acquiring his particular property has to do with a park-like aesthetic.

"I think it's all for the looks," he said.

The city has been trying to work with Pickel to acquire his property for about a year. In the past few weeks, Pickel received notification his property would be acquired through eminent domain, also known as condemnation, since he resisted the buyout for so long and doesn't seem willing to negotiate.

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