Village of Kenmore officials should reconsider their plan to take private property under the state’s eminent domain law in order to expand the police department.
Eminent domain is a legitimate process for public projects, but it should be the last option. In this case, it is questionable whether that high bar has been cleared.
The Village of Kenmore wants to take over a commercial building for a planned $6 million expansion of its police headquarters. The Village Board last week voted to begin the process to acquire the Insty-Prints property on Elmwood Avenue through the use of eminent domain.
Tom Metz, the owner of Insty-Prints, turned down the village’s initial purchase offer. He wanted officials to construct a new police headquarters at a different site. And the owner of Colvin Cleaners, Paul Billoni, whose business is located on the other side of the printing business, remains frustrated with how the village has handled the property purchase. Billoni is a former village trustee whose family has run Colvin Cleaners for more than 90 years.
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There are public use circumstances under which eminent domain may be appropriate – constructing roads or airports or parks, for example. But its a dubious concept that a police building – one not frequented by the majority of the public, let’s hope – readily rises to that level. Moreover, Clerk-Treasurer Kathleen Johnson who has worked for the village since 1993 and served as clerk-treasurer since 2001, can’t recall Kenmore attempting to purchase a property through eminent domain before. Johnson insisted that the officials are not going forward with eminent domain “as a first option.”
The village for years has considered expanding or replacing its 71-year-old police headquarters at 2395 Elmwood Ave., across from Mang Park. Officials say the aging, cramped structure does not meet the requirements of a modern police force with a locker room for women officers and improved accessibility for people with disabilities. The expanded facility would also be more energy-efficient. Such factors surely justify plans to build a modern, new police headquarters.
Village leaders say they made an effort to identify other options for expansion or relocation. Options included: adding a second story to the existing police building; acquiring and expanding onto a neighboring residential property; and moving the department to the Kenmore Community Center on Wilber Avenue in Mang Park.
None, they said, is as viable as expanding onto the Insty-Prints property at 2385 Elmwood Ave., just to the south of police headquarters. They need to prove that before any court thinks of approving this plan.
But it is difficult to imagine that the village could not find another alternative including one in which they offer more money for the Insty-Prints building. Robert Knoer, Metz’s attorney, besides arguing that the village’s initial offer did not fully compensate his client, suggested Kenmore officials explore moving the department to the park across the street.
Regardless, the village has completed a land survey, title search and appraisal for the Insty-Prints property, Johnson said. On Nov. 1, the board voted to start the process to acquire the Insty-Prints property by power of eminent domain.
Village officials would be wise to reconsider. To force anyone from their property is an awesome power, even with appropriate compensation. To do so for so limited a public use as a municipal building only raises the bar higher.
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