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CHICAGO-A major local land owner and development team, which controls key S. Western Avenue parcels in the Beverly community, has threatened legal action if the city attempts to acquire his property through eminent domain. The threat by the Gibbons family stems from a tax increment financing plan for a nearly three-mile stretch of Western Avenue, nearly two miles along the Rock Island Railroad to the east, as well as a portion of the Morgan Park community.

Although the plan promises to inject $60 million into the Beverly and Morgan Park community primarily through public infrastructure improvements and rehab money, it also includes a list of 73 parcels the city may attempt to acquire through eminent domain. Among them are nine properties owned by the Gibbons family, including buildings and vacant land in the 10600 block of S. Western Avenue. Unless those parcels are scratched from the acquisition list, Michael and Susan Gibbons could sue, threatening the entire plan, attorney John Senica told the community development commission Tuesday. The Gibbons’ track record includes a 2003 award from the Chicago Association of Realtors for a project on 95th Street, Senica says.

“We believe that the stated goals of the development plan would not be achieved here. You’d be stripping viable and valuable property from a qualified developer,” Senica says, adding the owners fear their property could be taken for a memorial park or funneled to a politically-connected developer. His clients already have hired an architect to design a 40,000-sf, two-story office building with high-tech infrastructure, excepted to cost $6 million and generate $150,000 a year in property taxes, Senica reports.

Department of planning and development officials as well as a TIF consultant hired by the city say there are no plans in the works. The city typically begins an acquisition list starting with vacant land, says Camiros principal William James. Under-utilized properties are added, according to the department of planning and development.

Tax increment financing will allow the city to offer incentives to owners looking to rehab their properties along Western Avenue and railroad frontage, particularly near Metra commuter rail stations, says 19th Ward Alderman Virginia Rugai. She hopes some money could be used to build a new school and fieldhouse in Morgan Park, she adds.

In addition to 87% of the buildings in the TIF area being 35 years old or more, they suffer from deterioration, obsolescence, lack of planning and declining equalized assessed value, says Robin Roman of the department of planning and development. “The area is not yet blighted but because of a combination of these factors, it might become a blighted area,” she says. “This is an area of the city that has long faced competition for development from neighboring suburbs.”

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