by David Madrid – Apr. 22, 2012 08:47 PM
The Republic | azcentral.com
Rejecting an almost $1.7 million price tag, Litchfield Park officials may resort to condemnation to transform a deteriorating piece of land into a public park.
For two years, the city has been unable to reach an agreement with the owners of Scout Park to buy the property and some related land, which is in a neighborhood near downtown and is deteriorating from lack of watering and maintenance.
If final attempts to have the park donated or to buy it at a fair price are unsuccessful, the city will resort to eminent domain, a legal process to acquire land at fair market value for the benefit of the public.
Eminent domain is the condemnation process government uses to acquire property through the courts. The city would file in Maricopa County Superior Court to acquire the property for public park and recreational purposes. If the city is successful, the court would establish just compensation for the parcels.
Last week, the City Council unanimously approved a resolution to condemn the park if necessary.
Some council members said the city exhausted all options in attempting to acquire the land.
“We have literally been through this for two years,” Litchfield Park Mayor Thomas Schoaf told a packed room of people at the council meeting. “We understand the problems of the park. We understand … that it’s a blight that decreases property values. It’s not a very safe place to play; (however) … there are a lot of kids that play there.”
The city can use eminent domain to use the parcels for public park and recreational purposes.
The park is in disrepair with dying grass and trees, a playground that needs paint, a basketball court with no hoops and backboards, sagging picnic tables and shabby benches.
But before condemning the park, the city will reach out to the owners of Scout Park, Las Vegas-based Dragon and Crane Corp., in an attempt to convince the business to donate the park to the city.
City officials said the past two owners, Suncor Development Co. and Kabuto Arizona Properties, promised to donate Scout Park to the city. Suncor sold the Wigwam and land including Scout Park to Kabuto International Phoenix Inc. in 1990.
Kabuto Arizona Properties filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009.
The city attempted to buy Scout Park from Kabuto, which sold the park in August to Dragon and Crane for less money than the city offered.
If Dragon and Crane does not agree to donate the park, lodge and pathway, then the city will offer to buy the land for its appraised value. If Dragon and Crane does not agree to sell the properties, then the city will begin eminent-domain proceedings.
City Manager Darryl Crossman said if the city resorts to eminent domain, the process could take anywhere from two months to a year depending on each party’s appraisal values of the properties. The closer the competing appraisals are, the shorter the time frame, he said.
The city will offer to buy:
The 5.6-acre Scout Park with an appraised value of $243,065.
A 1.89-acre pedestrian and golf-cart pathway that crosses under Litchfield Road at an appraised value of $143,937.
A 1.7-acre parcel that includes Scout Lodge, which was built by Litchfield Park founder Paul Litchfield and has been used by the Boy Scouts for years. The appraised value is $130,293.
Schoaf said once the city acquires the park, it will figure out how to fix it up considering the city’s tight budget.
The mayor said he and several council members were reluctant to use eminent domain, but he said old and new promises to donate the park to the city were not kept.
The city insists George Lee, former president of Kabuto Arizona Properties, promised to donate the park several times. Schoaf and other council members said they believe Lee was sincere. Schoaf said the decision not to donate the park went higher than Lee.
“We went through a process in which Kabuto demonstrated the lack of business ethics that they have,” Schoaf said. “For us to reach an agreement with the head of their company and with the attorney representing the company, only to go out to San Francisco to find out that the deal changed by 150 percent.”
On May 12, city officials said they traveled to San Francisco to finalize a deal to pay as much as $250,000 for the park, but Kabuto’s president, Shigeru Sato, said he did not authorize the agreement and asked the city for $450,000.
Later, the city offered even more for the park and nearby parcels.
Schoaf said Kabuto further demonstrated its lack of ethics by transferring Scout Park and the other properties to a Las Vegas entity that “literally has no substance.”
Kabuto sold Scout Park to Dragon and Crane for $250,000. Dragon and Crane is listed as a home-based business by the Nevada secretary of state. Its registered agent is listed as Watanabe & Nakagawa Tax Service, Las Vegas. Dragon and Crane offered to sell the park to the city for about $1.7 million.
Efforts to reach Yoshikatsu Nakagawa, director and president of Dragon and Crane, were unsuccessful.
Lee said he could not comment.
Schoaf said he expects criticism from some residents over the condemnation.
“This is not a decision that will be 100 percent supported in our community,” he said. “I personally anticipate that I will hear from multiple people that we should not do it.”
The residents who gathered outside the council meeting after it ended were not critical of the council.
Barbara Nelson said she and her late husband, Rodger Nelson, a Luke Air Force Base fighter pilot, built their home two streets north of Scout Park in 1967 when there were only three houses and the park in the neighborhood.
She said the park and Scout Lodge are pieces of Litchfield Park history.
Marcie Ellis, who lives near the park, said everyone values the park and lodge because many residents and their children have grown up playing ball in the park or participating in both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts at the lodge.
“Our property values have all suffered,” Ellis said. “People drive by that park; they see the park and they don’t know what it is, and it takes our whole neighborhood down.”