Passing Gas

Jackass-riding Alderman Tom Bauer and QuikTrip join forces to test the limits of eminent domain

"For this particular project, we will be widening McCausland," says Bauer, an attorney and former member of the Missouri state legislature best known for riding his pet donkey around the neighborhood come campaign season. "That's the public good that comes out of this."

That may be a stretch, according to Bullock.

"If a government is claiming to use eminent domain for road-widening, but the real purpose is to benefit private parties, courts will look at that very skeptically," he explains. "It's called pre-textual takings -- when supposed public use is a pretext for the real motivation behind a taking [of land]."

QuikTroubles: Jim Fozzy's Perkins Heating is one of 
six Franz Park businesses in jeopardy of being bought 
out and razed.
Jennifer Silverberg
QuikTroubles: Jim Fozzy's Perkins Heating is one of six Franz Park businesses in jeopardy of being bought out and razed.

Had the government's motivations for taking the land -- which would fall under the jurisdiction of the city's Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority and then be transferred to QuikTrip -- been purely in the interest of the community, odds are some business owners would have had no problem voluntarily selling their properties for a fair price.

"I think it's ridiculous," says one local business owner who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I'd probably sell out to a development that is reasonable. But I probably will anyway, because they have eminent domain."

Since last fall, this business owner claims, QuikTrip contractor George Koob of Jeff Eisenberg Real Estate in Clayton has been in his face demanding that he sell -- or else.

"The man said if we can't negotiate a reasonable price, then they have the right to eminent domain anyway," says the business owner.

Jim Fozzy, who owns Perkins Heating, another of the half-dozen businesses in jeopardy of being bought out and razed if QuikTrip and Bauer get their way, insists he had the same experience with Koob.

"A guy came in and gave pretty much a bottom-of-the-line shithole deal for the property," says Fozzy. "Then my wife kept getting these calls saying, 'You have to sell, or we'll take it away from you with eminent domain.'"

QuikTrip and Koob declined comment for this story, but their alleged strong-arm tactics have irked even those who are not opposed to the project.

"People in this neighborhood don't scare very easily," says Franz Park Neighborhood Association President Richard Torack, a friend of Bauer's whose organization has maintained a neutral position on the proposal. "That would not be the approach I would have done."

"I would be willing to bet money that eminent domain will not be used in this instance," says 13th Ward Alderman Fred Wessels, chair of the board of aldermen's housing and urban development committee, which passed Bauer's eminent domain ordinance on a voice vote.

But, as D.C. attorney Bullock is quick to remind, it's the threat that counts.

"It's not illegal, but I think it's unconscionable," says Bullock of Koob and QuikTrip's evocation of eminent domain in their negotiations with property owners. "Property owners often feel like they have no choice [but to sell], because they feel like they're going to get taken advantage of if they fight. I liken it to somebody robbing you with a gun to your head. They often don't have to pull the trigger to get what they want."

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