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MOUNT PLEASANT – The Village of Mount Pleasant has taken the first step in a process that could give it eminent-domain authority to acquire land from holdouts in the Foxconn development area.

The move could see the village declare the entire 2,900-acre designated Foxconn area — the great majority of it now open farmland — to be a blighted area under state law, but not in the commonly understood meaning of blight.

Rather, the village would use a section of state law that broadly defines blighted areas within a redevelopment zone.

Under the law, such an area doesn’t have to be a crime-ridden slum; it also can be a predominantly open area that, because of diverse ownership, obsolete platting and even for unspecified reasons, “substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the community.”

“We’re not talking about blighted property,” said Alan Marcuvitz, an attorney for the village. “We recognize that there is not blighted property within this area.

“But that doesn’t mean it’s not a blighted area within the definition that we’re using,” he added.

One factor contributing to that status, village officials say, springs from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s plans for the major expansion of the roads bordering the Foxconn area.

Like most such projects, the plans here will involve taking slices of private property alongside the roads so they can be widened.

But the Foxconn-area road-improvement plans likely will go a step further: According to village officials, the DOT will shut off road access to the parcels inside the Foxconn area.

So owners who balk at selling their property for the Foxconn project would be left landlocked. And their parcels, inaccessible from the roads, would be what Marcuvitz described as “uneconomic remnants” with little or no value.

The village over the past couple of weeks has acquired about 1,700 of the 2,900 acres it has designated for Foxconn Technology Group’s planned mega-factory and adjacent development.

Owners of another 300 to 400 acres, meanwhile, recently have offered to sell. And the village is moving forward with plans to take, under eminent domain, strips of land alongside roads that will be widened.

But roadblocks remain. The owners of seven small parcels have filed suit in federal court, arguing, among other things, that they should get much more for their property than the village has indicated it will offer.

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And the Creuziger family, with 420 acres the largest landowner in the Foxconn area, has turned down the village’s $50,000 an acre offer for open land.

David R. Barnes, an attorney representing the Creuzigers, said he had yet to see any communication from the village about the possible designation of the Foxconn site as a blighted area and could not comment.

Barnes has said his clients’ land is “worth substantially more” than $50,000 an acre. He has said the Creuziger property, which includes a locally well-known pumpkin farm, should not be regarded as farmland but as the industrial parkland it is earmarked to become.

Farmland in the area sold for far less than $50,000 an acre before the advent of Foxconn, other property owners have said. Records of real estate sales in recent years support that.

Within the Foxconn area, four different parcels of open land sold between 2011 and 2014 at prices ranging from about $4,300 an acre to just under $8,000 an acre.

Another parcel, just outside the Foxconn area and close to the I-94 interchange at Highway 11, sold in 2016 for $12,300 an acre.

The Creuzigers' land is not in the area that will be the initial site of Foxconn's factory. Rather, it is just to the north, in an area designated for future expansion by the company.

So while the village wants to acquire the property and is under contract with Foxconn to do so, its need is arguably less urgent than would be the case if the land were in the section where Foxconn plans to begin construction this year. All the land in that section — bounded by I-94 on the west, Highway H on the east, Highway KR on the south and Braun Road on the north — is expected to be in village hands by next week, Marcuvitz said.

 

The steps being taken toward potentially using eminent domain to acquire holdout land began with a decision Monday by the Mount Pleasant Community Development Authority.

The authority voted to hold a public hearing on whether to designate the 2,900-acre Foxconn zone subject to the state law that includes the broad definition of blighted areas.

That hearing has been set for 5 p.m. March 20 in the Village Hall.

The community development authority can vote on the designation 15 days after the hearing. The designation also requires approval by two-thirds of the Village Board.

 Marcuvitz said he hopes the village doesn’t have to use eminent domain power.

Besides having that tool, however, the blighted-area designation for the Foxconn district also would lower the village’s cost of borrowing money to finance its obligations in the Foxconn project, Marcuvitz said. With the designation, he said, the community development authority could sell bonds at a lower interest rate because they would be exempt from both federal and state tax.

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