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Shopping center scrap goes to court 

Unusual condemnation to remove house.

The veil has been removed from a 2-year-old threat to condemn land developer Lou Schickel bought in the middle of a proposed University Heights shopping center at the northeast corner of Markham and University. The University Heights municipal improvement district - a body basically controlled by Strode Property Company, the Dallas-based developers of the shopping center - sued earlier this month to condemn Schickel's property. The rental house, at 5817 A. St., sits smack in the middle of what Strode hopes to make a parking lot. Strode's local liaison and the originator of the project, developer Ron Tabor, did not return a phone call seeking comment, and Schickel wouldn't comment this week. But two years ago - a few months after Schickel bought the house, in critics' opinion to foil Tabor's plans and protest city leaders' support of it - then-City Manager Cy Carney sent a letter to Schickel and other remaining property owners in the shopping center zone. The letter urged them to "negotiate in good faith…The city intends to use any and all powers at its disposal to help move this project through to completion." As of this week, Schickel is the lone remaining holdout. Technically, the city is not condemning the land, although city officials are solidly in favor of the shopping center project. It's the municipal improvement district, a quasi-governmental body theoretically made up of property owners who choose to tax themselves to pay for infrastructure improvements. State law also gives such districts the power of eminent domain, which allows condemnation. It is unclear whether this improvement district will levy taxes for improvements or if its formation was primarily a tool to get Schickel's property. In this case, the improvement district includes only the property within the proposed shopping center boundaries - University on the west, Markham to the south, Pierce to the east and B and C streets to the north - meaning Schickel is the only non-Strode-connected owner. Each district has a three-member governing board. Two members of the University Heights governing board, Chuck Keller and Jim Strode, are directly connected to Strode Property Company. The third is Adam Ritchey. His connection to the development isn't clear. The City Board of Directors approved the formation of the improvement district last month. The two-page condemnation suit, filed April 9 in Circuit Court, says it needs Schickel's land to "construct and maintain an infrastructure, including water lines, sewer lines and fire lanes." Donna James, a city planning official who's worked closely with the planned development, said she didn't know anything about the specifics of the condemnation. But building around Schickel's property isn't a realistic option under the developers' current site plan, she said. "It's going to be very tough to do without getting Lou's property," she said.
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