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Business owners say city wants land to redevelop it

Aug. 10, 2010

Greenfield — Bill Maynard says his auto-repair business at 4061 W. Loomis Road is nothing short of a dream come true.

Over the last 16 years, the 73-year-old Maynard and his wife, Bonnie, have also been proud members of the Greenfield community - helping sponsor the annual DARE car show, contributing to the restoration efforts of a historic Greenfield fire truck.

Now, however, the Maynards and other neighboring business owners are fearful of losing their properties in the face of the city's plans to redevelop the area, just north of Interstate 894.

Properties declared blighted

Those business owners believe the city is on a crash course to use eminent domain after the Common Council last year declared their properties as blighted, a key step in its legal ability to acquire properties through eminent domain.

In the last few weeks, they have peppered their lawns with "No Eminent Domain" signs.

"I don't sleep at night," said Tim Boyea, owner of Security Plus Locksmith Service, 4145 W. Loomis Road.

City officials for the last several years have eyed about 47 acres of public and private land near Interstate 894 and Loomis Road for a possible mixed-use redevelopment project called Greenfield Crossing.

Attorneys for the city as well as developers have approached some business owners about selling. Some said they would sell for the right price but feel they are being low-balled, while others, including the Maynards, do not want to sell for any price.

Is redevelopment eminent?

Mayor Michael Neitzke earlier this week acknowledged eminent domain was one possibility depending on the outcomes of negotiations between attorneys for the city and business owners.

Neitzke said he wants to avoid eminent domain discussions, but the city is also trying to increase its tax base by landing a large business development. Leaving eminent domain on the table enhances the business' negotiating position, he said.

"Philosophically, I'm against the city replacing one successful commercial enterprise with another," he said. "At the end of the day, the city will do what's in the best interest of taxpayers, existing businesses and other stakeholders involved.

"If it's not a win-win for everybody, the city will not try to impose its will."

Any redevelopment is at least three years off, Neitzke said, because the state Department of Transportation is using the Loomis park-and-ride lot as a staging area for the Interstate 94 construction project.

As part of that project, a new off-ramp at Loomis Road will be constructed.

Owners feel hurt, unwanted

Bill Maynard's Auto Service has been 49 years in the making.

In 1963, Maynard opened his first business at Highway 100 and Oklahoma Avenue in West Allis. As the business continued to grow, he moved to two other spots before purchasing his current location.

Business has never been better. They boast a database of more than 25,000 customers and employ eight full-time people and about four part-timers.

But the recent developments have left the Maynards feeling hurt and unwanted in Greenfield.

They take issue with the city's "blighted" declaration, noting they once received a landscaping award from the Greenfield Beautification Committee and have worked hard to keep their property looking sharp.

They also criticized the city for moving forward without a developer lined up or any formal plans for the future of the area.

"They make you feel like an alien," Bill Maynard said. "Right in front of the public. 'We no longer want your kind of business, Mr. Maynard.' I've already paid them a quarter-million dollars in taxes."

Lacking communication?

Many don't even know the name of Boyea's locksmith business other than "the white building near the freeway."

Boyea has operated Security Plus Locksmith Service in its current location since 1985, and it's been that easy freeway access and unique service offerings that have allowed him to make a good living, he said.

But every time he talks to his attorney regarding this issue he hears the ringing of a cash machine - his hard-earned money going toward something he feels should not be happening.

He and others contend very little "negotiating" is actually going on these days, and he criticized city officials and attorneys for poorly communicating plans.

Neitzke agreed communication has been lacking.

"I certainly wish the communication had been better," he said. "There's a lot involved here and if there isn't good communication, there's a lot of misperception that doesn't benefit anybody."

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