Home owners may be spared eminent domain | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Home owners may be spared eminent domain

Jenifer Ragland

Home owners who were at risk of losing their land as part of the South Lake Tahoe Park Avenue Redevelopment Project may not have to sell.

Judith Von Klug, redevelopment manager, said a study commissioned by the city is considering alternative sites for a drainage facility, which is intended to improve the quality of storm water going into the lake.

“Right now it does look like there is at least a decent chance we can use another site that was previously considered to be cost prohibited,” Von Klug said.

Controversy arose when some residents and a business owner in the Black Rock Road neighborhood, located between Lake Tahoe and U.S. Highway 50 near Stateline, objected to selling their homes when they were approached by the city a few years ago.

Under eminent domain, the city has the right to acquire private property

when a public need is found to be greater than property owners’ rights. However, the government entity must pay the land owners just compensation, Von Klug said.

But private citizens in this case contend other sites, particularly a vacant lot adjacent to their neighborhood, would be more suitable for the project.

“It doesn’t make any sense to put a drainage site so far away from development in the midst of a well-established neighborhood,” said Diane Dutart-Gallego, whose family has owned their South Lake Tahoe home for 34 years. “Why are they attempting to take people’s homes, when there is undeveloped land available? It seems horrible they are trying to do this.”

Judy Chang owns the Swiss Village Motel, located within the original proposed site. She also objects to selling her property and claims that the threat of it being seized has hurt her business.

“We can’t sell or refinance … who would want to buy into trouble?” Chang said. “We can’t even try to improve it, because the more money you put in, the more losses you will have.”

The Park Avenue project was approved by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Governing Board in November, with a condition that the city must explore optional sites.

The alternative area being studied is just north of the original site at Park Avenue and Pine Boulevard, and is comprised primarily of small motels, Von Klug said.

She said the city could not afford to buy the area when it was first considered it in 1992-93 because it was questionable if the Ski Run Redevelopment Project would get off the ground.

But with Ski Run nearing completion, the city would have to buy at least 319 rooms to comply with a TRPA restriction that requires 100 old rooms be torn down for every 100 new rooms built.

“We can essentially do double duty with the money,” Von Klug said. “What was unaffordable when Ski Run wasn’t going ahead now becomes an affordable alternative.”

However, Von Klug said she does not know if the alternative site will be suitable under all of the criteria, which include environmental impact and the elevation of the land.

“The owners who might be affected by that alternative have been notified,” she said. “Overall they were more receptive than the private property owners were.”

The study will likely be completed at the end of March, when the public hearing process would begin, Von Klug said.

Meanwhile, Dutart-Gallego, her mother Evelyn Dutart and Chang are doing everything they can to prevent being forced to sell their land, in case the possible alternative falls through.

“We’re doing letter-writing and working with our local elected officials,” Dutart-Gallego said. “This is our family home, we are up there every summer, and the thought of losing this cabin is really devastating.”

Dutart said she will do anything to prevent losing the home she planned to retire in next year.

“I’m angry because I’ve had this property since 1961 and I’ve worked really hard,” she said. “I wanted to leave it to my children.”

Von Klug said she believes the entire situation is a testament to a fair and effective process, but admitted that it probably will not end up leaving everyone satisfied.

“I don’t think that any time the government decides there’s a public need that overrides private property owners’ rights everybody comes out happy,” she said. “But I am confident we will have done everything possible to figure out the best place to put the drainage facility by looking at impartial criteria.”

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