Wichita School Board Pursues Eminent Domain

By: Lily Wu - Email
By: Lily Wu - Email

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Wichita School board members voted tonight to pursue eminent domain on ten properties near North High School.

"It's great that they're expanding. I think it's a wonderful thing. But then what about us? What about our homes?" asked Elma Najera-Flores, whose home is being condemned.

These were questions three homeowners have been asking since the beginning of the process but said they felt like there was no choice.

"They say, 'We're not kicking you out,' but then the way they treat you, harass you, [and] tell you this is what's going to happen, it feels like they're basically kicking you out. You don't have a choice," said Najera-Flores.

Homeowners said they have been frustrated because their voices have not been heard.

"They didn't give us a choice. In fact the first thing I heard the guy say was, 'We're going to get your property one way or another,'" said John Layton, whose home is also being condemned.

Part of the 2008 school bond issue allowed for the expansion of athletic facilities at North High School. In those plans, 31 plots of land were to be acquired. After negotiations, 21 have been sold but ten are left with no agreement on a price.

"It is important that when we buy property, we pay the fair market price. When we don't feel like that's what we're being asked to pay, then we think it's only fair that we go this route and let a third party come in and be the ones that help make that determination," said Denise Wren, chief operating officer for the Wichita school district.

A couple in their 70's, who have lived in their home north of the high school for 30 years and across the street from their daughter, said the price they're being offered just cannot get them a home comparable to their current one.

"It's really hard on them, especially because with what they're trying to give them for the home it's like they can't find something that doesn't need fixing," said Najera-Flores, daughter of the couple.

Both sides said they want to be treated fairly as a landowner and as a steward of taxpayers' money.

Since the school board is pursuing eminent domain, the district will now file action in Sedgwick County District Court and a judge will appoint three appraisers to set a selling price.

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