Landowners Concerned About Eminent Domain in Delhi Township

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About two years ago, Delhi Township made plans to build a ten foot pedestrian/bike trail from Holt High School, to Eifert Road, a stretch that includes part of the Hicks' front yard.

"We opened the doors and told them we would talk to them, but they didn't come back with any of us," said Julie Hicks, a landowner in Delhi Township.

The township is now threatening with eminent domain to take their property and compensate them and about 13 others.

She says the township's communication has been bad and she and her neighbors still have lots of questions.

"It's like they are going behind the doors and trying to be deceitful or deceptive at least Ms. Miller did and the township--especially after her last email yesterday," said Hicks.

Currently the easement on the Hicks' property ends 33 feet from the center of the road. The township wants to add another 17 feet, which would extend the boundary right up against a giant decorative rock the family has in their front yard.

The family doesn't like not having a buffer.

"Whatever concerns they have, I'd be certainly glad to sit down and talk with them and walk through all of them," said John Elsinga. the Delhi Township Manager.

Hicks said the discussion should have happened months ago, and without the threat of taking their property.

"Again, that's their opinion. It's just a tool we have but the conversation will continue. We haven't pulled that trigger yet," said Elsinga.

The township is under pressure to get the project started this year or $1.1 million of grant money funding the project will expire.

"We are under some time crunch," said Elsinga. "We've been working on it since last year so we hope to acquire all the easements necessary--this spring and construction [will start] later this year."

The township manager would not give specifics about when those deadlines are. He said construction would begin in the fall.

He also said in the 37 years he's worked for the township, he can't remember ever following through with eminent domain to condemn and take someone's property.

"My goal really is to explain the need for the shared use pathway," said Elsinga. "I'll understand what their concerns are and I think we'll navigate it through successfully."

Eminent domain is one of the oldest, most powerful tools the government has. There are two requirements -- taking the land has to serve a public purpose, and the private party must be given just compensation.

If a public project meets those requirements, the government can forcibly buy anyone's property. That said, it's a process that takes a lot of time, especially in appeals, and the township is under a deadline.

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