Eminent domain off the table for Brooks Court properties


On Monday, Jan. 23, the East Troy Village Board voted to proceed with the use of eminent domain to forcibly seize land from two homeowners in East Troy on the cul-de-sac of Brooks Court. 

And Then

And Now, The Flash

Following pushback from two trustees, the East Troy Village Board Feb. 6 reversed its decision to use eminent domain to seize an unknown amount of land from two property owners on Brooks Court. The move would have freed up three landlocked parcels owned by Mary Pulliam and allowed for the sale of a newly combined lot.

Village Administrator Eileen Suhm urged the board to take a closer look at the issue after finding and releasing discrepancies with its previous 4-3 split vote to proceed with eminent domain.

“When I talked to numerous people, everybody said ‘This is really unique. I’ve never seen anything like this,’” Suhm said. “Unfortunately, I think this led to some confusion and some miscommunication and misinformation.”

Suhm said the village only has the power to seize the properties by eminent domain if they create economic blight. The properties involved are not considered blighted. While owners must be paid for the property, eminent domain is normally used by governments to take property for public good.

Trustee Matt Johnson, who said he was unhappy with the lack of information prior to the original vote, urged the board to be careful with decisions regarding the property moving forward.

“I feel… personally… the board was a little manipulated into trying to solve a private dispute. One of the reasons I voted for the motion was to get more information. I don’t want to go down this path again,” Johnson said.

“As it’s turning out, our legal advisers didn’t even have all the information and not because they were laxed, but because it just hadn’t produced itself,” said President Randy Timms, who voted to authorize the use of eminent domain. “We can all walk around and feel like we have egg on our face, but we made the right decision last week based on what we knew last week.”

The Not So Flash

The board voted to table a decision regarding the future of a troubled access easement for Pulliam’s property. Officials said they wanted to allow the affected property owners to continue private negotiations before getting involved again.

Representatives for Pulliam first approached the Village Board in summer of 2016 due to issues with an access easement on the plat for the Crystal Acres development from 2002.

Pullium’s attorney Robert VanScoyoc of Sweet & Maier, S.C. said his client requested eminent domain, because without acquiring land from neighboring properties, a merger of the three lots would leave the parcel landlocked with no access to a public road.

With eminent domain off the table, Suhm presented the board with the following two options to rectify the situation:

  • Correct the easement on the plat to allow for a driveway to be built to Pulliam’s property. According to Renee Powers with the Department of Administration Plat Review, whoever has rights of enforcement can modify the easement on the plat.
  • Create potential driveway access for Pulliam’s property from Highway 20 using the village owned, but undeveloped, “unnamed road.”

Suhm said she was prompted to delve deeper into the issue after hearing concerns from two trustees who questioned the legality of proceeding with eminent domain in this case and the lack of communication with affected property owners.

She said the affected property owners were not notified of the Jan. 23 meeting where seizing their land was on the table.

The Village apologized for the oversight and invited them to the meeting Monday night.

Suhm also said negotiations between two parties regarding the purchase of land had taken place without the board’s knowledge.

“I’m curious on why we’re told the homeowners were unresponsive?” said Trustee Ann Zess after hearing one of the affected property owners mention a counteroffer he made Jan. 4.

“I didn’t know there was a counteroffer. Frankly I’m not sure why it’s relevant,” responded VanScoyoc, who argued the mistake was not his client’s fault.

He said Pulliam made an initial request for the easement, which had no monetary value and then made a subsequent cash offer, but he was not aware of a counteroffer.

VanScoyoc said they would prefer to make a voluntary agreement with the other property owners.

Trustee Scott Seager expressed concern with interfering in private real estate negotiations between Pulliam and the other property owners.

“Let the landowners work it out themselves,” he said.

After hearing from the two affected lot owners, including negotiations for the purchase of land dated as recent as Feb. 6, the board decided to wait a month before taking action.

Fact Check

Audio From Feb. 6 Village Board Meeting