Coakley wins on appeal
Appellate court forces city to pay $50,000 relocation costs
A downtown Milwaukee moving and storage company that lost its parking lot to the Park East Freeway redevelopment process won a key battle in court, forcing the City of Milwaukee to pay relocation costs as it moves from its current location.
When the city in January 2002 used its powers of eminent domain to purchase a parking lot used by C. Coakley Relocation Systems Inc., company president Chris Coakley claimed the loss of the lot would force his firm to move from its location at 1300 N. 4th St.
In most situations, a business owner can be entitled to up to $50,000 reimbursement to pay for costs associated with relocation if land on which business is conducted is purchased under eminent domain law.
To be eligible, the business must meet a few conditions, including that the site must be owned and occupied by the business operation for at least one year.
Coakley had purchased the plot that included his 100,000-square-foot building and the lot across the street from Lappin Electric in 1998, along with the .176-acre parking lot across McKinley Avenue.
The city has relocated McKinley Avenue to the south, through the lot Coakley owned. The remainder of the lot and adjacent properties will be made available for redevelopment as the project moves forward.
The city won the first legal round when the court determined that Coakley was not entitled to any further help from the city to find a replacement site.
Coakley filed an appeal Nov. 15, and on May 13, the District 1 Court of Appeals reversed the lower court decision. However, Chris Coakley’s Roadster, LLC, which leased the building to the moving company, is still involved in a separate lawsuit against the city regarding the value of the property.
Because the city’s acquisition of the property is still a matter of ongoing litigation, Chris Coakley declined to comment further on the issue.
Charles Graupner of Michael, Best & Friedrich’s Waukesha office, who represented the city in the case, said the city was considering appealing the decision to the Wisconsin Supreme court.
"That is being considered, but no decision has been made at this time," Graupner said. "… From our viewpoint, the position the Court of Appeals took is at odds with a ruling of the District II Court of Appeals."
The case cited by Graupner has to do with whether or not business is conducted on the site. If no business is conducted on a parcel, a business cannot be considered a displaced party when that parcel is taken through eminent domain, according to Graupner.
Because Coakley used the site for parking — some of which was leased to others — and because the lot was not marked, fenced or identified as part of the business, Graupner claims Coakley was not truly displaced.
However, in its written decision, the appellate court claimed the Racine case cited by Graupner as precedent involved an absentee landlord, as opposed to a company such as Coakley that uses parking to support an adjacent business.
The court also took issue with Graupner’s argument that Coakley did not conduct business on the property, which was across the street from its building.
The court wrote, "To suggest that parking lots, separated from buildings by (roads) or buffer-zones, are not part of the business occupancy is contrary to common sense. Accordingly, the parking lot that is intended to serve customers and employees of a company which holds a lease to a larger parcel must be considered occupied by the business it is obviously intended to serve."
Graupner said the decision’s impact could be significant.
"The implications are perhaps greatest for the Department of Transportation (DOT), because this is a practice they are involved in fairly commonly," Graupner said. "In situations where the DOT acquired parcels used for parking, it is generally not subject to the comparable replacement requirement."
May 30, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee