County moves to condemn property

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 1, 2002

With deadlocked negotiations with the owner on one hand, and a pressing need to complete the new courthouse complex on the other, the county took legal action to condemn a piece of land next to the new judicial building.

The county considers the 8,200 square-foot land lying next to the site of the demolished Western Grocer Building an essential part of the new courthouse, serving as a parking lot. The blueprint by the county’s architect shows that it will provide 24 parking spots.

The condemnation of the land, owned by George Dress, is in accordance with a state law that allows the county to claim an eminent domain over a private property and acquire it for a public purpose. A court hearing is set for Aug. 20, where parties involved will have an opportunity to speak. If the court finds the county’s petition legal, it would appoint an appraiser to assess the property value to determine the price to be paid to the landowner.

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After deciding to tear down the Western Grocer Building in February, the county started talking with Dress about the purchase.

The County Assessor’s Office appraised the property value around $27,300. But the land has a $32,300 lien by the City of Albert Lea for the cost incurred when the city removed a hazardous structure on the land. Dress did not accept the county’s purchase offers.

In May, the county board authorized County Attorney Craig Nelson to pursue the condemnation, but the administration continued to negotiate, hoping an agreement would come out without bringing the case to the court.

However, the county found a sales contract was made between Dress and an individual at $100,000. The county considered the act as apparent disturbance of faithful talks and decided to condemn the property.

The contract shows that Thomas O’Brien in Washington state, where Dress is living, will acquire the land upon the completion of payment. The purchasing price includes the settlement of Dress’s debt to the city. A down payment of $10,000 was already paid, according to the contract.

County Administrator Ron Gabrielsen thinks that the move simply aims to balloon the price and complicate the issue. He sent a letter to O’Brien’s lawyer, informing them the property is under the process of condemnation.

Nelson said that he would have to add O’Brien to the legal proceeding as an interest holder. But he believes that the sales contract would affect neither the condemnation process nor the price the court will determine.

&uot;It makes no difference. The price will be based upon other similarly situated properties in Albert Lea,&uot; Nelson said. &uot;The county does not negotiate with someone who is playing games.&uot;