The words “eminent domain” strikes fear in the hearts of homeowners.
Eminent domain allows a state, city, village or corporation to take private property without an owner’s consent, according to Expertlaw.com. The owner is given the market value of the land, the site states.
Using eminent domain can costs taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal fees and can cause a divide in the community. So it’s no wonder that Algonquin officials are carefully navigating the dilemma in the Highlands subdivision, hoping to avoid any litigation.
The main street that goes through the Highlands, Edgewood Drive, is falling apart. It has been a problem for years and Algonquin was poised to tackle the street this year. However, it needed the owners of 46 single-family homes to sign a permanent easement agreement that would allow the village to reconstruct the street.
Cities and villages usually own the street and sidewalks but that’s not the case in the Highlands. The homeowners actually own the sidewalks. The village has an easement but needs an additional 15 feet in order to fix the road and make improvements to resolve a drainage issue in the subdivision.
“We don’t have the easements. We can’t go on your property,” he said.
The Highlands neighborhood was originally subdivided for townhomes then the plans changed, calling for single-family homes as well the townhomes, Village President John Schmitt said.
However, there was no thought of having to change the grading or easements, he said.
“It wasn’t really an error, it was the way things worked out. I would say, we would not do it that way today,” Schmitt told Highlands resident this week at a village board meeting.
“You can say it is the village’s fault, it doesn’t matter, it is what it is,” Schmitt said. “It doesn’t change whose fault it is that something happened 25 years ago. It is what it is, let’s fix what we have to fix.”
So far, 28 homeowners have sign easement agreements. Algonquin needs the remaining 18 homeowners to sign off as well.
Algonquin staff has gone door to door in the neighborhood trying to explain the situation _ with no resolution.
One Highlands resident, Denny Scott, said the neighborhood wants to cooperate with the village but wondered what else the village could do to obtain the easements.
“I can’t make them do it unless I spend everyone’s money in the village and spend thousands of dollars to do it,” Schmitt said.
Eminent domain would be a big expenditure for taxpayers, said Kelly Cahill, village attorney. The land would have to be appraised and going to court could take a while, she said. Algonquin wants to convince the 18 homeowners to sign an easement agreement rather than use eminent domain, Cahill said.
Algonquin is trying to handle the situation while being fiscally prudent, Cahill said.
Schmitt told Scott the village needs neighbors’ help to avoid using eminent domain.
Eminent domain “creates enemies. Then you have a battle. They (homeowners) join forces, hire attorneys and we are in court for years,” Schmitt said. “In the meantime, you don’t get a street.”