A retired couple who until recently ran a dry cleaning business at 50th and France in Edina lost their fight to keep the building as City Council members voted to condemn it Tuesday night to expand public parking in the area.
It was the first use of eminent domain by the city of Edina in a decade, coming on a 3-2 vote.
Last fall, Edina began negotiating to buy the Hooten Cleaners building at 3944 W. 49½ St. from Soon and Jenny Park, but the Parks have refused to sell. They closed their business in May and had planned to remodel and rent the building.
At a crowded public hearing late Tuesday night, Soon Park told the council that he and his wife love Edina but that the city action threatened their retirement.
“We have been a good Edina business for over 20 years,” he said. “We feel the city has not treated us fairly …
“With no income … we are very afraid about how we can live.”
Many neighbors and customers testified in the Parks’ favor, with some saying they viewed eminent domain as a heavy-handed and unfair government tool.
Council members expressed frustration that negotiations with the Parks had reached an impasse. They said they hoped they could still reach agreement with the couple in the next two months before condemnation proceedings begin.
Edina has been studying ways to expand parking in the crowded 50th and France area, and recently bought the former Edina Realty building there to make way for a new parking ramp. The city also wants to expand the North Parking Ramp next door to the Parks’ building. The city resolution to condemn the business says the space could be used to expand the North Ramp or partly for parking and partly as a location for a relocated municipal liquor store.
“Additional public parking is needed to support the continued success of this district,” the resolution says.
In an interview, the Parks’ attorney, Jim Yarosh, said that in his view, the city’s reason for using eminent domain does not hold water under state law that changed in 2006. Cities, which formerly could condemn property for economic development reasons, now can use eminent domain only if it has a public purpose.
According to state law, “the public benefits of economic development, including an increase in tax base, tax revenues, employment or general economic health, do not by themselves constitute a public use or public purpose.”
“I think they’ve got some legal hurdles here,” Yarosh said. “Is this being done just to create economic benefit?”
Bill Neuendorf, Edina’s economic development manager, said before the meeting that he believes the condemnation meets requirements of state law.
“This is the expansion of existing public facilities that are shared by customers, businesses and neighbors,” he said. “In this particular case, public parking that’s shared remains a bona fide public use.”
Neuendorf said the city began talking with the Parks last fall when it became known that the couple intended to close their business and retire. The city made a purchase offer based on an independent appraisal, he said, and the Parks countered by asking for an amount that was three or four times above that appraised value.
According to Hennepin County property records, the estimated market value of the building is $549,200. Neuendorf said the city’s independent appraisal was “significantly above” that figure.
Yarosh questioned why the city was seeking more public parking after buying the Edina Realty building to build a ramp. Neuendorf told the council that the new ramp would add only 72 parking spaces. He said a city study indicated that 140 to 200 spaces are needed in the area.
Yarosh said the couple haven’t had time to fully discuss what to do if the city condemns their property. The Parks emigrated from South Korea in 1975, raised two sons here and bought the Hooten Cleaners property in 1993.
The Parks’ son Tony was one of those who spoke in support of his parents.
“I think what gets lost in legal paperwork … is that this is the culmination of decades of hard, backbreaking work,” he said. “Owning their own business was their dream.”