|Jury Prices Country Club at $25M based on Rezoning Probability|
|By Pat Milhizer|
Law Bulletin Staff Writer
A Cook County jury has told Evergreen Park officials that if they want to buy a country club from a 101-year-old woman, they're going to have to forget their $6 million appraisal and pay $25 million.
Anna Mae "Babe" Ahern is a lifelong Evergreen Park resident who was sued by her village in 2002 in an eminent domain action to obtain the 95-acre Evergreen Country Club, which her family has owned for about nine decades. The village wants to buy the property at 93rd Street and Western Avenue to ensure that it will remain open space used for golf and recreation.
Ahern has never listed the land for sale, her attorney said, but she has received unsolicited offers from developers who want to buy the property and rezone it for commercial use.
In 1999, Home Depot reached a $25 million contract with Ahern for the land that was contingent on getting the property rezoned, but the village board denied the project. The big-box retailer later opened a store in Oak Lawn.
On Tuesday, the jury decided that there was a reasonable probability that the land could be rezoned, so jurors said the village should have to pay $25 million.
Because the jury's decision doesn't compel the village to pay the award, the village can drop the eminent domain action and pay Ahern's legal fees, which is required by state law.
Ahern was represented by James R. Figliulo and Carl A. Gigante of Figliulo & Silverman P.C.
"The jury's decision was just. It was just compensation, and I think they carefully considered everything and found that just compensation should be $25 million," Figliulo said.
"That really does serve as a check on the power of government. It really is the jury's decision that is important. That goes all the way back to the Bill of Rights," Figliulo said.
The village was represented by Vincent D. Pinelli and Amanda J. Ripp of Burke, Burns & Pinelli Ltd.
Pinelli said that the village wanted to ensure that the land was kept for recreational use.
"It could be any kind of development. They'd rather see it open space and recreational than some intense development," Pinelli said.
If they don't drop the case, village officials can appeal the verdict on evidentiary issues. One main issue would be that the jury was allowed to hear about the Home Depot contract, Pinelli said.
The case was unique as far as eminent domain actions go, Pinelli said, because the jury had to decide a fundamental issue of whether the property had a reasonable chance of being rezoned.
"If there was, the only evidence of value was $25 million. If there wasn't, then there was our $6 million. So the jury was faced with an either-or situation, which is unique for these kinds of cases. Because many times, juries compromise and come somewhere in between the appraisals," Pinelli said.
"Juries aren't often faced with having to decide zoning. It's usually not contested," Pinelli said.
Cook County Circuit Judge Alexander P. White presided.