MILLCREEK — A controversial blight study that caused residents to fear their homes would be taken through eminent domain as a part of a Millcreek growth plan is officially dead.
Millcreek officials scrapped the study aspect of the plan after public input was “almost unanimously against the idea,” Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini said during a city council meeting Monday night.
Rather, the city plans to move forward with its plan to invest in the future Millcreek city center “without providing the city the enhanced power of eminent domain” or blight, Silvestrini said. His remarks came before a resolution to terminate the study and move forward with the project without the study passed with a 5-0 vote.
“The witch is dead!” Silvestrini said as the vote was finalized. Several dozen residents who gathered for the city council meeting cheered and clapped as the resolution passed.
The study was commissioned in September and recommended the city adopt a resolution that an area near the intersection of Highland Drive and 3300 South be blighted. The plan called for the city power of eminent domain to purchase properties if the right conditions were met. The city would focus that area for future urban plans.
The study also stated that more than 75 percent of the buildings in an amended area suggested contained at least one blight factor.
Residents worried they’d have no choice but to sell their properties. They accused the city of “gerrymandering” the results to get the right blight determination.
Officials said it was clear the study was doomed by the reaction of the city residents. Silvestrini and city council members met with residents within the area suggested in the study and also read letters sent by residents during a public comment period that ended on Wednesday.
“We received a lot of public input. Based upon that input and the direction it was going was almost unanimously against the idea of continuing with the blight study," Silvestrini said.
Millcreek city councilwoman Silvia Catten said she viewed the study as a “tool” that would be used in a “very, very rare” instances. She and others on the council apologized for the stress that the study may have caused residents.
“It was never our intention to take anybody’s property and we’re very sincere in that it was never our intention to cause this much heartache,” Catten said. “We understand what it might feel like: you’re under a hammer and you don’t know what might happen.”
Based upon (public) input and the direction it was going was almost unanimously against the idea of continuing with the blight study.
–Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini
Many of the residents who spoke Monday night applauded the city for dropping the blight study as a part of the project. However, Millcreek resident Aaron Walker questioned if the city would pick it up again in the future.
“What is to protect us from — one year from now, five years from now — doing this all over again?” he asked. “I hope this is over and done for good.”
Resident Jo-Ann Wong added she was opposed to the city’s overall general plan for the future.
“I’d like you to turn around and encourage our local business,” she said. “Support our local businesses and our residents and cherish them.”