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Rohnert Park may use eminent domain to widen road near casino

Published: Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 3:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 3:32 p.m.

Rohnert Park may use its eminent domain powers to acquire parts of several properties needed to widen Wilfred Avenue to accommodate the huge Indian casino now under construction.

The city in September signed an agreement with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria and the county of Sonoma under which the tribe is to pay the full cost of widening the street.

But officials say neither they nor the tribe have been able to reach agreements with five property owners to buy just under an acre of land still needed for the $10 million widening project from Redwood Drive to Stony Point Road.

Nearly all the route is outside city limits.

City staffers have asked the City Council to approve five resolutions declaring that it is in the public’s interest for the city to forcibly acquire the land. The council is to consider the resolutions on Tuesday.

Under eminent domain proceedings a judge would determine the fair market value of the property and compel its sale.

“What we’re proposing here is taking a very depleted road that has no improvements and we’re looking at certain improvements that we believe greatly benefit the overall community,” City Manager Gabe Gonzalez said.

But the owner of at least one of the properties in question, Amy’s Kitchen Restaurant Holdings, said Friday that the company has signed a deal with the tribe to sell that portion of their land, 10,702 square feet, needed for the project.

“We reached an agreement with the tribe a while ago ... now it’s just recording the easement,” said Mark Levin, Amy’s Kitchen’s real estate broker and consultant.

The company, one of the nation’s largest makers of natural frozen foods, plans to open a fast-food restaurant on the southwest corner of Wilfred Avenue and Redwood Drive.

Gonzalez said the agreement with Amy’s Kitchen was likely reached while the agenda item and staff report were being prepared. He said that may be the case with some the other property owners, too.

“We’re hopeful,” he said. “Talks continue to take place between the property owners and the city and the tribe.”

The city and tribe had offered Amy’s Kitchen $5,000 for the quarter-acre of land. Levin said the final deal was for “a different amount but not by that much.”

The owners of another property, though, farther west on Wilfred Avenue, said they remain far apart from the city and tribe in arriving at a price.

“We feel that their offer prices is extremely low and have expressed that,” said Tawny Tesconi, whose property includes a small single-family home that is being rented out.

The city and tribe have offered Tesconi and 12 relatives who also own the property $79,600 for a permanent easement of 10,975 square feet that contains the rental house, and for a temporary easement of 85,421 square feet to be used during construction.

(Tesconi’s brother, Tim Tesconi, was a longtime reporter for The Press Democrat and is one of the property’s owners. His wife is Catherine Barnett, the newspaper’s executive editor. She does not have a financial interest in the property. The couple’s sons have a share in the property.)

Tawny Tesconi, general manager of the Sonoma County Fair, said the tribe and city have appraised the property as farmland, but that her family have been paying taxes on it as commercial property.

“At this point it doesn’t seem that they are willing to reopen the appraisal or the assessment,” she said.

It is projected that the street, now two narrow lanes bordered by ditches, will get about 11,000 more vehicle trips daily when the casino opens. Officials have said that will happen by year’s end.

(You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com.)

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