NEIU using eminent domain to force neighbors out, build new dorms

Friday, August 8, 2014
NEIU using eminent domain to force neighbors out
Northeastern Illinois University is using eminent domain to make room in the community for new dorms on properties adjacent to the campus.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Northeastern Illinois University has taken legal action to force neighboring residents and businesses to move as part of a plan to expand the campus.

The university is using eminent domain to make room in the community for new dorms on properties adjacent to the campus.

Northeastern Illinois is the only public university in Illinois that does not have student housing, and it wants that, even at the expense of an unattractive court fight. When we first reported on this in May, NEIU was threatening to use its power of eminent domain to take neighboring properties. On Friday, it became more than a threat.

"We thought this was the sort of thing done under totalitarian regimes, but not in the United States where the sanctity of private ownership was and should remain a given," said Rosemary Beil, property owner.

Back in the 70's, Rosemary Beil and her husband bought and built up a corner lot at Kimball and Bryn Mawr. They don't want to sell, but Northeastern wants it - and both sides of the block - for new student housing.

On Friday, NEIU lawyers filed suit to condemn six properties through eminent domain. Those properties contain a number of businesses that have been fixtures here for years, like a Chinese restaurant open since the 50s. They don't want to move.

"We wouldn't have bought in this neighborhood, our house, if we'd known we were going to have a dorm right here," said Alexis Koukari, neighbor.

Nearby residents like Frank Pride have filled their yards with signs accusing the university of an ill-conceived land grab. To date, NEIU has not provided any drawings or specifics on its student dorm plans other than an announced intention to build twin five-story buildings on both sides of Bryn Mawr, a block east of campus for housing and retail.

"The hope is that the greater good will be served and that the property owners will be well-compensated in the eminent domain process," said Jewell Klein, Hollywood and North Park Community Association.

The university has again declined ABC7's request for an on-camera interview, but says it's committed to "a fair market value" for each property, and that it believes the "addition of new students and businesses will enhance economic development" along the Bryn Mawr corridor. To that, many residents say, show us your plan.

"I'm not reflexively against development, but just make the case that this is really going to work in the long-term," said Rebecca Pride.

The university intends on building another structure for student housing on a campus athletic field it already owns. Neighbors say, why not build there first, see if the demand for housing warrants more rooms, and if it does, then make a case for displacing long-time property owners. The university has the power of eminent domain, which neighbors say they will fight.