NORTH PARK — In their ongoing battle against Northeastern Illinois University's plan to exercise eminent domain on property on Bryn Mawr Avenue to erect student housing, protesters took their fight Wednesday to the home of NEIU President Sharon Hahs.
Carrying signs with slogans like "Don't Bulldoze My Family's Home" and chanting, "Don't seize private property, stop eminent domain," a small band of Bryn Mawr property owners and residents of the North Park community picketed outside Hahs' home in the 3500 block of West Ardmore Avenue Wednesday afternoon, as the president hosted a reception for some of her staff.
Hahs remained indoors throughout and did not engage with protesters.
Kim Moseid, who has lived across the street from NEIU for 40 years, said "we were here before it was a university."
"We've seen many positive developments but we're very passionate about eminent domain. Where, technically, is it public use?" Moseid said.
Patty Wetli says the protesters are hoping more people in the neighborhood get involved:
NEIU has targeted eight commercial buildings on Bryn Mawr, between Kimball and Bernard avenues, to make room for a 280,000-square-foot mixed-use residential/retail development. The $50 million project would be built in partnership with a private developer.
Owners of two of the eight properties have sold to the university, which, as an entity of the state, has the ability to acquire the remaining parcels via eminent domain.
"If they needed to build an 'L' line, I would understand. But this is just a trumped-up land grab," said Tania Beil-Mainz, whose parents are among the owners who've refused to sell. "This is just baloney."
Beil-Mainz, who lives with her husband and children in Germany, joined the protest during what was meant to be a family vacation.
"It's not really relaxing," she said. "But how can you roll over and do nothing when people are trying to steal your parents' pension?"
Her father, Carl Beil, 82, described the university's actions as "horrendous."
Beil, an architect, served as his own general contractor during the construction in 1970 of his family's building, located at the corner of Kimball and Bryn Mawr avenues.
"My heart and soul went into it," he said. "That's my premier property. That's what we're counting on for retirement."
Moseid said she and other neighbors were disappointed by what they called a lack of community outreach from the university regarding its plans for student housing.
"This is not partnership," she said. "We don't want Northeastern to move. We just want an open dialogue."
Once the university files for eminent domain — letters were sent a week ago to property owners warning of the filing "within the next two weeks" — the courts will decide whether NEIU's proposal meets the criteria required for eminent domain.
A 2004 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court found that the economic revitalization of a blighted or depressed urban area qualifies as public use, setting a precedent for the confiscation of property that could then be transferred to a private entity.
Bryn Mawr property owners and neighbors opposed to the university's housing project say that particular stretch of the avenue is thriving.
"We're at Hunan Wok all the time," said Moseid, referring to a Chinese restaurant at 3411 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Likewise, she said she pays frequent visits to the TCF Bank located in the Beil's building.
"That section of Bryn Mawr is such a tiny section to look to develop when there are so many vacant storefronts further west," she said.
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