Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:24 pm
Court to decide if city should compensate moving company
By Charles Rathmann, of SBT
A moving company with nowhere to park its trucks? It seems incongruous.
But not to attorneys for the City of Milwaukee Redevelopment Authority, who are refusing to help a local moving company relocate to a more suutable site after the company lost its parking to the Park East Freeway redevelopment project.
A March 25 pre-trial conference is scheduled at Milwaukee County Courthouse to determine if an appellate court should decide the question of whether C. Coakley Relocation Systems Inc. should be afforded status as a displaced person. Such a designation would require the city to pay for Coakley’s relocation costs.
According to court documents, the city contends that Coakley’s property was used primarily as leased space, which would not entitle the company to relocation costs.
C. Coakley, one of separately owned moving firms in Milwaukee that carry the Coakley name, employs about 25 people. The company provides space in several warehouses for records and equipment storage, and also handles commercial moving accounts for customers nationwide.
While company president Chris Coakley would not comment on his dispute with the city, the public record speaks volumes about his predicament.
On Jan. 20, 2002, the city’s engineering firm, HNTB, purchased the portion of land beneath the Park East Freeway that included the parking lot Coakley owned across McKinley Avenue from the company’s headquarters at 1300 N. 4th St.
McKinley Avenue has been relocated 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.
Coakley filed a suit requesting a condemnation review. The legal proceedings were not without drama.
On March 30, 2002, Coakley attorney Alan Marcovitz, of Weiss, Berzowski & Brady, issued a letter to the city, stating that his client would not vacate the property, and that any attempts to force Coakley from the land would result in allegations of criminal trespass.
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. In the days leading up to the filing, Coakley was hit with two municipal citations totaling more than $800 for building maintenance-related issues – the first such citations it had ever received, according to Milwaukee Municipal Court records.
The citations remain unpaid, according to civil court filings.
Coakley had purchased the plot that included his 100,000-square-foot building and the lot across the street from Lappin Electric in 1998.
The lot was used not only to park employee vehicles and Coakley’s moving trucks, but also as leased parking space for Bowles Construction Co. According to documents in the civil suit record, the site generated $250,00 in lease revenue for Coakley in 2001.
To convince the court that Coakley’s loss of parking did not require the payment of relocation or other costs under Wisconsin statutes, the city called into question whether or not Coakley was actually occupying the property.
In most situations, a business owner can be entitled to up $50,000 reimbursement to pay for costs associated with relocation. 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.
In response to Coakley’s appeal, Charles Graupner of Michael Best & Friedrich’s Waukesha office reiterates the city’s claim that Coakley was not occupying the site that was purchased for redevelopment.
"It is an undisputed fact that Coakley’s appeal centers around its loss of use of a vacant .176-acre parcel of property which was subject to an eminent domain taking by Milwaukee," Graupner wrote in the Feb. 17 court filing. "Coakley is not appealing any procedural misstep taken by Milwaukee except for the fact that Milwaukee did not make available to Coakley a comparable replacement property. Coakley uses the property for 17 parking spaces. The property contains no signage indicating that the parking spaces are for business use or that business is being conducted in, near or on the property. The property does not abut Coakley’s business and it is not the only nearby space available to Coakley’s employees or customers for parking."
Graupner’s statement may not seem to adequately deal with the fact that Coakley’s business relies on the use of trucks and semi trailers, and that currently those trucks are crammed in spaces off an alley behind the building – a testament to the maneuvering skills of Coakley’s drivers.
However, because at least a portion of the lot in question was leased, the city points to a prior case in Racine, in which a court determined that condemnation of leased space could not entitle an owner to displaced person status.
"Is parking important? Sure," Graupner said. "The issue is whether or not there was a business conducted on the property."
Other businesses sue the city over Park East relocations
C. Coakley Relocation Systems is not alone in filing law suits against the City of Milwaukee over the condemnation of land beneath the Park East Freeway spur replacement project.
Riverfront Plaza Joint Venture, Brookfield, filed suit against he city initially on Jan. 18, 2002, and lost. The company, which owns a building along the Milwaukee River north of Juneau Avenue, filed an appeal May 31, 2002. A pre-trial conference is scheduled for that appeal at Milwaukee County Courthouse March 14.
Riverfront Plaza owns a 15,000-square-foot building on .541 acres at 1110 N. Old World Third St. and seeks a jury determination as to what compensation it should receive for its loss to the city of .996 acres across Juneau below the Park East Freeway.
Another aggrieved party settled his suit with the city through mediation Feb. 6. Jim Barry III of The James T. Barry Co. owns two entities that filed suit as a result of the condemnations – 1201 N. Edison LLC and 1232 N. Edison LLC.
The city purchased a total of .544 acres from Barry, most of which was used for parking. Barry had filed suit against the city June 28, 2002. Retired Judge William Jennerro mediated the case on behalf of the law firm Cook & Franke.
However, Barry said some of the details, including the final price the city is to pay for the land, have not yet been agreed on.
"We do not have a settlement on the property," Barry said. "We are hoping that should come to fruition. I think we have reached a general agreement, but until I actually see the written documentation, it would not be proper to say we have a settlement."
According to Barry’s attorney, Allen Arntsen of Foley & Lardner’s Madison office, the value of the land once it is redeveloped played a role in negotiations.
"There were a couple of issues that were important in mediation," Arntsen said. "The city was taking a pretty good part of the land, which caused problems in developing the remaining land to its highest and best use. This land is adjacent to the river, and that makes it ripe for some top-notch development. This is harder to do with a smaller site."
The value of the land in its current use (parking) also needed to be considered, according to Arntsen.
"The city was arguing that the land was benefiting because the Park East Freeway was coming down," Arntsen said. "But the Park East is just an easement. What you have in effect is covered parking. And downtown, parking is important."
Barry said the project would adversely affect the offices of the James T. Barry Co., requiring the company to move.
"The bridge they are building on our former property will butt right up against our building," Barry said.
The land east of Edison Street and the remaining land on the west side of the street will be redeveloped, according to Barry.
March 7, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee