Courthouse land condemnation hearing postponed

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 19, 2002

A court hearing for the condemnation of land adjacent to the new criminal justice center was postponed again Friday. Coupled with the litigation by the Freeborn County Committee for Fairness (FCCF) halting the finance for the project, it also seems to be trapped in a labyrinth of law.

The county has condemned the 8,200 square-foot land owned by George Dress to build a parking lot for the new courthouse.

The hearing had been canceled once in August because the County District Judges John Chesterman and James Broberg removed themselves from the case due to potential conflicts of interest in the case.

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This time, the County Attorney Office could not locate one of the individuals involved in the bidding for the land, Thomas O’Brien in Washington State. Mower County Judge Fred Wellman gave the Attorney’s Office another five weeks to notify him of the condemnation.

O’Brien made a contract to buy the land from Dress at $100,000. The county thinks the contract was intended to inflate the price of the land, which was earlier appraised as $27,300 by the County Assessor’s Office. The land also 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.

Bidding for the foundation work for the new justice center was rescheduled from October 16 to 23.

This portion of project involves footing, foundation, utilities, precast and demolition on the former Western Grocer Building site and Dress’s land. If the condemnation case is not resolved by the time the project is scheduled to begin, the contractors will start working on the rest of the land and then wait for the final resolution, County Administrator Ron Gabrielsen said.

Gabrielsen said that the county would not postpone the bidding. However, uncertainty in the condemnation case and the delayed bond sale may affect the number of bidders and price of bidding. The litigation by the FCCF against the county scared off bidders and spoiled the sale.

The delay of the bond sale will most likely accrue millions of dollars in costs. The county is discussing with its lawyer whether or not to make a counter law suit against the FCCF members to enforce restitution for the loss. With the slowness in the condemnation process there could be extra costs tacked on to the total project cost.