Guest Opinions

Guest Opinion: Following Eagle property settlement, owner issues a caution

After seeing the “WE WON, Eminent Domain Stopped, No Court” sign on our downtown Eagle corner, a lot of friends and customers came in to our store to congratulate us, asking for the full story. Although confident in our legal case, we offered mediation as an option two days before the court date; Eagle’s Urban Renewal Agency, to our surprise, accepted.

The garage property that we’ve owned for 30-plus years is coming down in the next few months as we prepare the site for redevelopment and build to suit, which was always a possible outcome. Nevertheless, some history here is warranted, in the hopes that our story might prevent needless conflict in the future.

Refurbishing the garage was an option, and we had such offers, but all lacked an ideal vision or conditions. Thankfully, as owners, we didn’t have to take an offer we weren’t comfortable with. At some point, however, the city began actively discouraging potential interest when suitors approached staff for business licenses.

Hardly anyone was building or redeveloping commercial property locally from 2007 to 2014. In fact, there is still a high commercial vacancy rate in Eagle — more than 40 vacant properties. Some have been sitting empty for a decade. We were not in a position to redevelop at substantial expense only to have it potentially sit empty for years.

We could not risk our livelihood and decades of hard work because people were tired of waiting for something to happen on that corner. ACHD road-widening issues, several years of the roundabout debate, and other unresolved issues regarding the intersection created additional uncertainty for us and potential tenants and buyers. All that time, when the property was not producing income, we paid taxes and insurance and maintained it.

Last December, with an improving economy, we listed the property, hopeful it was the right time to redevelop. But the URA derailed redevelopment efforts by filing eminent domain immediately after we received an offer in January. The URA made it impossible to complete that deal or secure another offer because naturally no one wanted to take on the looming legal battle. Instead, at a huge expense both to us and taxpayers, we have ended up where we would have anyway if the URA had just let our Realtor market the property and negotiate a fair offer in a private sale. After all, this is America — to buy, hold, and sell property is a fundamental right.

Through it all, we’ve experienced things you never believed could happen in America. We were consistently told by Councilman Mark Butler and Mayor Jim Reynolds that they would never resort to eminent domain or support such actions. We trusted their word but ultimately were misled. We can, however, thank Councilmen Jeff Kunz and Stan Ridgeway for their steadfast support of property rights and local taxpayers.

We learned that sticking to your guns and fighting for your rights can make a difference. We’ve been around here longer than anyone on the City Council/Eagle URA board, and we learned there are many great people who aren’t afraid to mobilize on behalf of fellow citizens. We thank everyone who supported us.

Resolving differences amicably and through mediation works better than issuing government agency ultimatums and expecting people to roll over. Once the threats ended and real discussions began, the URA got what it wanted: We are taking down the old building and putting in a new development.

We also got what we wanted: our fundamental property rights preserved.

After all we’ve been through, we believe that the expansive and dangerous powers of URAs demand quick re-examination by the Idaho Legislature.

Sandy and Rick Smith are longtime Eagle business owners.