|There is no established timeline for acquiring the 10 properties on the block, but the village wants to get things moving sooner than later.
Gee met with village administrator Derek Soderholm and village president Robert Nunamaker in July.
“They wrote a number on a piece of paper: $332,000,” Gee said. “I was like, ‘What?’ They said, ‘Yeah, that is what your property is worth. We checked the market value and we think this is comparable.’ And I’m thinking to myself—I didn’t know enough about eminent domain to argue with them at that point—I’m thinking: God, my building is worth more burned than what you’re offering.”
Gee paid $200,000 to renovate New China’s kitchen after the fire in 2013. His parents paid around $180,000 when they bought the building over 40 years ago. Adjusted for inflation, that equates to around $870,000 today. The village itself paid $40,000 in tax increment financing funds to repair the outside of the restaurant.
Gee has been talking with attorneys to make sure he gets a fair value for his property.
“All I know how to do is cook food. I’m not here to study law,” he said.
Even though Fox River Grove is looking for a private investor, they can still use the power of eminent domain because they consider the project “economic development.” This precedent comes from the landmark case Kelo vs. City of New London, in which the U.S. Supreme Court allowed private developments to count as “public use” under certain circumstances. Illinois passed laws limiting this kind of eminent domain to blighted areas, but this loophole can be abused, especially because the state doesn’t share the added restrictions of nearby Wisconsin.
“[Blighted] ends up being a synonym for ‘coveted,’” said Robert McNamara, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, the organization that litigated the Kelo case.
The buildings down the street from New China may be empty, but the restaurant is anything but blighted.
“For 40 years, we paid our dues in taxes, property taxes,” Gee said. “We’ve created value.”