A recent decision by the Mesa City Council will allow the City of Mesa to use eminent domain to procure property for the light rail project if other means of negotiations with the property owners fail.
Approved during the council’s July 8 meeting, the resolution opens the door for city staff to purchase properties as part of the Central Mesa Light Rail Extension Project through eminent domain if, as mayor Scott Smith noted, “all other options are exhausted.”
“It’s a very complex and very large process, which is why we have had a lot of different groups involved,” said City of Mesa’s communications director Steven Wright.
According to documents attached to the meeting agenda, the project will extend the light rail from Sycamore Station to Edgemont Street east of Hobson Street, along Main Street and through downtown Mesa. The city needs to acquire a total of 122 properties to move forward with the project, with many of the parcels going to road widening, irrigation and utility relocation or improvement.
In an interview after the meeting, deputy city manager Karolyn Kent said the city has been “very successful” in its bid to purchase the parcels — she said 106 of those properties are currently in escrow — but it has run into difficulties negotiating with some of the property owners. The issues differ: some of the owners haven’t been in consistent contact with the city, while the process to finalize the agreement with another owner has gone slower than anticipated — but the overriding factor is a delay in the purchasing process. Real estate services administrator Kim Fallbeck said getting the council’s approval is the first step toward the eminent domain process.
If negotiations break down, Fallbeck said the next steps include bringing the issue in front of a judge and an appraiser through a mediation hearing in order to find what is deemed a “just compensation” for the land. That dollar amount would be the one used to purchase the property by the Mesa city government if the two sides cannot reach an agreement through negotiation, and the entire process can take several months to complete. “Our top priority is to negotiate a purchase price … that’s the ultimate goal,” Kent said.
One of the motivations for the city’s request to use eminent domain, which Kent, Fallbeck and Wright emphasized repeatedly is a last resort, is the time frame for the extension project. Although Kent said she wasn’t sure of precisely when the construction would start, a letter sent to property owners informing them of the council’s work indicated Valley Metro had a July-through-September window it wanted to start widening the streets along the rail.
Although the type of project isn’t necessarily a determining factor in the use of eminent domain, Kent said the light rail extension is a “huge economic development driver” for the city and the areas, especially some of the college campuses the line would affect.
“With this opportunity, it’s just another way for our community to thrive,” she said.
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