VALPARAISO | The city wants to buy a 6,700-square-foot parking area from Ernie Darr as part of the expansion of Central Park Plaza, and Darr said he wants to sell it — if he gets a fair price.
City Administrator Bill Oeding said the city wants to give him a fair price for the property. The only problem is reaching agreement on the definition of "fair." So the city recently filed for condemnation of the property to have the court determine the price.
"I have no problem selling because I want to retire," Darr said. "But, I want to be fairly compensated as I've seen them fairly compensate others in the past."
The parking lot serves businesses in the block that Darr owns along Lincolnway between Lafayette and Napoleon Streets. They include Darr's printing business, Bistro 157, Asana Yoga, Dan Vinet's office and a children's barbershop. Two others units are vacant.
Darr said without the parking, some of his tenants have told him they will leave and another put off expansion plans until the sale situation is resolved. Although the city has promised access will be maintained for deliveries to the rear of the businesses, Darr said large trucks wouldn't be able to get to the loading docks.
"They told me the property would be worth more when the park was first built and it was," Darr said.
He said the city paid about $32 per square foot for the land for the rest of the park, and the assessment for his Porter County property taxes values his lot at $34 per square foot. That would make the value of the part the city wants about $228,000, and he has an appraisal setting the value at $206,000.
The city is offering $92,500, which is the average of two appraisals it had done. Darr said the city's appraisals were based on sale prices from several years ago and for properties not located in the downtown or, in at least one case, the county. The appraiser he hired relied on properties in or near the downtown.
Oeding said the city paid a higher price for the other property acquired for the park because it had buildings on it. The former Needle and Thread property at Jefferson Street and Lafayette was recently bought by the city for $50,000 and is about the same size as Darr's, he said.
"We think we've offered him fair market value," Oeding said. "We're not here to take anything away from him, but we are not even close to where he thinks it should be."
Darr said, "I kind of thought we had a verbal agreement to facilitate the sale without going through condemnation. I would take a down payment, and the rest would be paid over five years at whatever the interest rate is. That would have been easier on my taxes."
Now he says he's going to have to pay up to $15,000 for an appraisal that will show his lost revenue, damages the city would have to pay.
The condemnation is scheduled to be heard in February but probably will be postponed. The city plans to start construction of the park addition in the fall.