City, Mayfair Lumber owners divided over value of land by $12 million
by BRIAN NADIG
A 5-year-old lawsuit on the city’s efforts to acquire through eminent domain the former Mayfair Lumber yard at 4825 W. Lawrence Ave. could go to trial this spring as the city and the property’s owners are about $12 million apart in their land value appraisals, according to recent court documents.
City Department of Law spokesman Bill McCaffrey said that the earliest start date for the trial would be in May. The trial would decide if the city’s decision to condemn the land is proper, and if so, the price that the city would be required to pay for the 5.82-acre parcel, McCaffrey said.
The city is looking to relocate its Department of Water Management facility at 4900 W. Sunnyside Ave. to the former lumberyard, although the gas station for city vehicles would remain at the Sunnyside site. City officials have said that it would be too expensive to relocate the station.
The city is seeking to use the lumber site for salt storage during the winter, parking for 60 trucks and 24 pieces of equipment, as well as a construction staging area for when the nearby Mayfair Pumping Station, 4850 W. Wilson Ave., is converted from steam to electric power, according to a Dec. 4 court order in which the defendant’s "traverse and motion to dismiss" the case was denied by Cook County Circuit Court Judge James McGing.
The defendant unsuccessfully argued that the size of the parcel would be too large for the city’s intended purposes, especially given that the city already had acquired a neighboring 63,000-square-foot parcel at 4808 W. Wilson Ave., where a portable washroom company once operated and the city has used for storing garbage trucks.
"The court does not accept these arguments. Salt storage, construction staging and parking are reasonable and necessary purposes for Department of Water Management needs. It is not appropriate for this court to dictate to the department that it could achieve its purpose with two acres rather than five. On this point, the court must respect the agency’s discretion," McGing ruled.
At issue with the appraisals is a Union Pacific Railroad easement that runs through a portion of the property. The city’s highest appraisal has been $5,115,000, while the defendant’s lowest offer has been $17,250,000, according to court records.
"The massive difference is based on the fact that plaintiff’s appraisers considered the easement and discounted their valuations accordingly, while defendants’ appraisers did not," McGing said.
It is not clear if an easement still exists on the property, and Union Pacific has not intervened in any way in the condemnation case, according to McGing. "Even if the easement is not abandoned, the court agrees with defendants that the valuation of the property cannot consider the easement’s existence," McGing wrote.
"First, the court values the entire property. Then, the court apportions that compensation among the various owners (including easement holders) according to each party’s rights," McGing added.
The city sought to purchase the lumber site at the urging of Alderman John Arena (45th).
Arena has said that the long-term goal of the project is to consolidate water management and sanitation services at one site. He also has said that the possible relocation of the Mayfair Sanitation facility at 4639 N. Lamon Ave. would ease parking and traffic congestion on area side streets.
The family-owned Mayfair Lumber closed several years ago. The site contains a sawmill and a staining shed.