Successful Businesses Labeled “Blighted” in Wisconsin

It’s becoming clearer that legislators in the State of Wisconsin need to reform the State’s eminent domain laws with regard to the taking of “blighted” properties and areas.  

Just ask Bill Maynard, owner of a 12-bay auto repair center in Greenfield, Wisconsin that is so clean you could practically eat off the floor.  In fact, the landscaping around the business even won an award from the Greenfield Beautification Committee.

But now, Greenfield city leaders have determined that Maynard’s business, along with a number of others along a coveted strip of property on Loomis Avenue, is “blighted” and should be taken so the city can turn the land over to a private company to redevelop the area.  

There’s just one catch:  the city does not have a developer lined up.  Nor will it be developing the area for at least three years.  In fact, the city has claimed that the coming years will allow it to “more thoroughly plan” what the redevelopment will look like.

So, let’s summarize.  The City of Greenfield wants to take successful businesses for a redevelopment plan in which it has no developer and it itself hasn’t even totally planned.  

Adding to the irony, the redevelopment project is supposed to be linked to an adjacent transit center (that is, park & ride).  Now, what could be a better fit for a project centered around a park & ride than an auto repair shop?  

That makes too much sense.  Instead, the city is opting for the typical “mixed-use” development prized by city planners from Albuquerque to Atlanta.  More condos!

But, you’re asking, “How could the Maynard’s property be considered blighted?”  Good question.  Let’s have a quick look at Wisconsin’s definition of “blighted area,” found in section 66.1333 of the Wisconsin Statutes:

(b) “Blighted area” means any of the following:

1. An area, including a slum area, in which there is a predominance of buildings or improvements, whether residential or nonresidential, which by reason of dilapidation, deterioration, age or obsolescence, inadequate provision for ventilation, light, air, sanitation, or open spaces, high density of population and overcrowding, or the existence of conditions which endanger life or property by fire and other causes, or any combination of such factors is conducive to ill health, transmission of disease, infant mortality, juvenile delinquency, or crime, and is detrimental to the public health, safety, morals or welfare.

2. An area which by reason of the presence of a substantial number of substandard, slum, deteriorated or deteriorating structures, predominance of defective or inadequate street layout, faulty lot layout in relation to size, adequacy, accessibility or usefulness, unsanitary or unsafe conditions, deterioration of site or other improvements, diversity of ownership, tax or special assessment delinquency exceeding the fair value of the land, defective or unusual conditions of title, or the existence of conditions which endanger life or property by fire and other causes, or any combination of such factors, substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of a city, retards the provision of housing accommodations or constitutes an economic or social liability and is a menace to the public health, safety, morals, or welfare in its present condition and use.

3. An area which is predominantly open and which because of obsolete platting, diversity of ownership, deterioration of structures or of site improvements, or otherwise, substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the community.


Now under that definition of blighted area, whole neighborhoods, perfectly sound in their outward appearance, could be considered blighted.  In Greenfield, the city appears to have seized on the fact that some of the businesses occupy decent-sized plots of land and, as a result, the land is “predominantly open.”  Nope, we’re not making this up.

Unfortunately, the Maynards and others in the area did not understand the significance of the local community development agency’s determination that the area was blighted, and as a result, the city has now put itself in position to take the land at any moment and give the owners 90 days to vacate the land.  

Greenfield has not yet pulled the trigger on these takings but will be holding hearings next week to determine its course of action.  On August 16, the city’s community development agency will meet to consider various options for moving ahead with the redevelopment plan, including the use of eminent domain.  On August 17, the Greenfield Common Council (city council) will meet to discuss the CDA’s recommendations and consider the city’s options with regard to the plan.

So far, a bank has been spared from the chopping block.  Hopefully, the city will at least consider building around those owners who are committed to staying in their homes and businesses on Loomis Avenue.  

Castle Coalition members should let the City of Greenfield know that eminent domain abuse is wrong!

Stay tuned for updates. In the meantime, check out this local news video.