The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

August 5, 2013

Eminent domain: City eyes controversial move to acquire land

By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — In earlier years, 416 S. Grand was home to Darrell’s Upholstery and Furniture Repair and also may have been a consignment shop, according to online search results of that address.

Now, the small building sits vacant. One sign in the window proclaims it is “Your Handyman Connection,” a reference to the maintenance work Kenneth Dillard did there before he died in 2011.

That building and the land under it appear to be one of only five properties standing in the way of Enid Renaissance Project, a multi-million-dollar expansion of urban renewal southward from the courthouse Square to Garriott.

Enid City Commission could decide as early as tonight to begin condemnation proceedings on it.

A trust conceived by the Dillard family now owns the land. Attorney Matt Sedbrook handled the trust’s creation for the family, and is allowed to make decisions for it.

“We’re kind of at the point where we’re not getting treated like everybody else. They went and bought everybody else new buildings, but they won’t do that for us or pay us what a new building will cost,” Sedbrook said. “That’s the bottom line.”

City Manager Eric Benson could not be reached by press time, but the resolution before the commission says condemnation is the last option.

“It is deemed a public necessity for the city of Enid to acquire all rights, title and interest” because the Dillard Trust has declined to sell, despite a “reasonable and just market value” offer, it said.

When a city takes land through condemnation, it still owes the owner funds based on a court judgment of fair market value.

Citing the right of eminent domain is not new to Renaissance. In March, commissioners grew tired of negotiations with D&D Premier Properties LLC, owner of the land that housed a dive shop near the Dillard lot. After three months under the cloud of eminent domain, both parties agreed to a price tag of $210,000.

Sedbrook wouldn’t disclose what the city’s most recent offer was, but said it was “substantially below what the new buildings are costing.”

According to data from Garfield County Assessor’s Office, there are five property owners who have not yet inked deals with the city. In the description of tonight’s vote on condemnation, the city states other negotiations for properties in the way of Renaissance were “cooperative.”

Enid Renaissance Project overlay map

Sedbrook believes because 416 S. Grand is owned by a trust, and because there is no active business there, the city is refusing to offer enough money to replace the building with a structure somewhere else.

However, he said, there’s a reason the building has remained empty.

“We haven’t leased it or did anything with it because we knew we were going to be in this situation. We were trying to be nice and not do some long-term lease or something,” said Sedbrook. “They just don’t want to pay us what they pay everybody else, is the bottom line.”

He said he doesn’t necessarily want to build a new structure, but will if that’s what it takes to get a fair deal.

“That’s what they’re doing for other people, but they’re saying that since ours is in trust and not occupied, they don’t want to pay us what they paid everybody else,” he said.

If the city can acquire the Dillard land, and others further south of it, it likely will become a green space, with an amphitheater and parking for Enid Event Center and Convention Hall.