BROWN DEER - A Brown Deer manufacturing company is seeking to sway public opinion about an eminent domain dispute with the village of Brown Deer by sending two fliers to every household encouraging residents to speak out at village board meetings and call village board members.
Rite-Hite Holding Corp. and its owner, Michael H. White, have filed a legal challenge to the Brown Deer Village Board's use of eminent domain to acquire 6.5 acres of land on the north side of the company's headquarters at 8900 Arbon Drive. A court trial is scheduled for April 5, according to online court records.
The village is interested in building a new public works facility on the vacant lot, which is located just east of the the Brown Deer Police Department and village hall. The existing public works building at 8717 N. 43rd St. is 51 years old, and according to an analysis by Bray Architects, needs $1 million in renovations and an additional 2,300 square feet for truck storage.
Instead of making those repairs, village officials would prefer to build a new DPW complex on Rite-Hite's vacant lot, which would consolidate village operations in the same area while also opening up 3.9 acres for redevelopment in the Original Village neighborhood. Village officials say the public works facility is out of place in the Original Village, and that the neighborhood of shops and restaurants would be better served by a mixed-use development with apartments.
Village officials began negotiations with Rite-Hite in July, and after several failed bids to acquire the land, decided in December to acquire the land through eminent domain, a legal procedure that government entities can use to take private property for public use purposes in the event a private land owner is unwilling to sell their property. The court trial would determine what Rite-Hite would be compensated for its property.
The land is assessed at $1.1 million, but according to Village President Carl Krueger, Rite-Hite owner Michael White has insisted the land is almost three times more valuable than that assessment. Krueger said the board "would be remiss if it simply paid Mr. White his demanded price."
"The residents of the village have been bombarded by misinformation in the form of direct mailings which mislead them into believing the elected officials are behaving badly," Krueger said. "In fact, the board is acting in the best interests of the residents by not caving into the demands of Mr. White."
Rite-Hite has said the loss of the 6-acre parcel would severely limit the company’s options for expanding its corporate headquarters at 8900 Arbon Drive.
The village's eminent domain action did not sit well with Brown Deer resident Julia Loritz.
"I don't think anyone who lives in America should be forced to sell the land that they paid for and that they paid taxes on to the village of Brown Deer," she said.
Brown Deer resident Scott Brandmeier, who is also Fox Point's public works director, said he was sympathetic to the village's concerns about the age and space constraints of the public works facility, but he did not agree with the use of eminent domain.
"I do not in my professional opinion view this as a Constitutional taking," he said. "What community benefits will result from the DPW facility being constructed on this particular site as opposed to a different site? Does the village want to spend tens of thousands of dollars in potential litigation related to this matter?"
Brandmeier suggested the village make Rite-Hite a slightly better offer on the condition that the company agrees to stay in Brown Deer for another 25 years.
Other residents, such as Rob Guilbert, supported the village's efforts to relocate the public works department next door to the village hall and police department.
"I''m glad to hear you are not going to cave in to extortion demands for overpriced property," Guilbert said.
Brown Deer resident John Gibb said he didn't believe Rite-Hite was negotiating in good faith.
"If Rite-Hite really wants to stay here — and we would like that I think — they should come to the table with an honest offer and we can make a deal together," he said. "It's my opinion that Rite-Hite really wants to leave if they don't get their way. We should not give in to intimidation and extortion."