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Our View: Flood potential must be factor in appraisal

Published: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 10:04 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, April 8, 2014 10:33 a.m. CDT

If DeKalb County officials’ plans to purchase Evergreen Village Mobile Home Park and relocate the residents of about 120 homes on the property fall through, a tremendous opportunity will be lost.

For one, the county will lose out on more than $7 million in federal and state disaster funding, which will cease to be available after June 30, 2015.

More importantly, the county will miss an opportunity to move some of its most impoverished residents out of the path of floodwaters from the Kishwaukee River.

Evergreen Village, located off Route 64 just east of Sycamore, is in the Kishwaukee River flood plain. County officials started working toward buying the property in 2007, after flooding caused extensive damage to homes and led to the forced evacuation of the park. Many residents could not return for weeks.

Another round of flooding and evacuation occurred in 2008, and DeKalb County was awarded a $4.2 million federal grant in 2012 to move residents from the area. Another grant through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity added $1.4 million. Another $1.5 million in federal funds has been made available to relocate residents, bringing the total to $7.1 million.

But with a June 30, 2015, deadline to use that money approaching, county officials last week went public with their frustration at stalled negotiations with Evergreen Village owner Frank Santoro.

Santoro has had an independent appraisal done on his property, which includes the 19-acre park, along with 33 acres of farmland and 6 acres of railroad right-of-way.  The appraisal valued the property at $2.6 million. The state has approved a purchase price of $1.47 million and rejected Santoro’s appraisal.

County officials have set an April 16 deadline for Santoro to accept their offer or the project will be called off.

Are these negotiations really doomed? Or is this an attempt by government officials to apply public pressure to Santoro?

Our hope is that the latter is true, and that there is hope yet for this process.

Santoro has owned the property since 1978. Any businessperson in his position would want to maximize the return on their investment, which includes more than three decades of labor in addition to whatever was spent to acquire the property.

However, Evergreen Village is in a flood plain. Government, from the federal to the local level, wants residents out for their own safety. As a result, government likely is the only willing buyer Santoro will find.

When government seeks to take private land, it has a responsibility to pay a fair price. However, Santoro makes it his business to rent land to people with the knowledge that a hard rain can force them all to flee for their safety, leaving the federal government and private charities to provide assistance and pay to help clean up the mess.

That should be a factor in anyone’s appraisal of the property. 

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