‘Blight’ declaration for Foxconn one of the largest ever seen, experts say

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Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Watch

In June 2018, the village of Mount Pleasant declared four square miles, about 2,800 acres, as blighted, including this land on both sides of Braun Road, where construction for the Foxconn plant is underway. The village board used part of a statute that states an area can be deemed blighted if it is predominantly open and if it “substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the community.” Photo taken July 1, 2019.

In June 2018, the village of Mount Pleasant declared four square miles, about 2,800 acres, as blighted, giving the village board one more tool to force landowners to sell their property to make way for the Foxconn plant and associated development. 

Attorneys who specialize in eminent domain in Wisconsin say such a broad blight designation is unprecedented for its size and the fact that the area included several luxury homes.

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Blight is broadly defined in state statute, said Madison attorney Sara Beachy, an expert in eminent domain law. In Mount Pleasant, the village board used a part of the statute that states an area can be deemed blighted if it is predominantly open and if, for any reason, “substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the community.”

But despite designating the area as blighted, village officials have not yet used the designation as an official reason to uproot property homeowners, said Daniel Bach, a Jefferson attorney who represents two property owners who are resisting selling to the village. 

Bach said properties abutting the roads were taken through eminent domain, which is typical. Others were negotiated under the threat of eminent domain. But the village has not used its condemnation authority, which comes from the blight designation, Bach said. 

“There has been talk of that, but they haven’t actually attempted to do that yet,” Bach said. “I think if they did try to do that, it would likely spawn a legal battle.”

Jim Cricchi / Twelve Letter Films

Kim Mahoney’s house, left, on Prairie View Drive is the only house still standing in her subdivision out of an original 13 properties, including the home under construction on the right, photographed on Oct. 20, 2018. In June 2018, the village of Mount Pleasant, Wis., declared four square miles, about 2,800 acres, as blighted. Attorneys who specialize in eminent domain in Wisconsin say such a broad blight designation is unprecedented for its size and the fact that the area included several luxury homes.

Beachy said while eminent domain is a tool many municipalities use, Foxconn is a unique case. 

“This is, to my knowledge, the biggest acquisition of land for a project in a single place (nationwide),” Beachy said. 

Bach said the way the village went about acquiring land for the Foxconn project is unlike anything he has seen in Wisconsin or nationwide.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of people who are eminent domain experts, and I haven’t found one that has found a parallel circumstance, anywhere,” Bach said, referring to the amount of acreage declared blighted. 

Gary Feest was the only Mount Pleasant village board trustee to vote against the blight designation. At the time, he said the village was “using a technicality to forward the village’s interests.” 

“What’s best for the village isn’t necessarily what’s best,” Feest said, referring to the blight declaration.

He said he would sleep better at night if he knew a little bit more about what Foxconn’s long-range plans are. But Feest believes Foxconn should be left to continue as is, so something “big” eventually happens in the area. 

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