By Arnold Adler

DOWNEY — The City Council Tuesday night unanimously authorized the use of eminent domain to force property owners to sell the city some 896 square feet of right-of-way to continue the $19 million Lakewood Boulevard widening project.

Public Works Director Desi Alvarez said the property, currently containing parking and landscaping, is the last piece needed for widening the street at the intersection of Lakewood Boulevard and Imperial Highway.

He said the city was unable to come to an agreement with property owners James Kriss and his brother, Ronald, who lease the land at the northwest corner of the intersection to Conroy’s Flowers.

Alvarez said the city needs right-of-way along the south side of Imperial and west side of Lakewood around the store but the building itself would not be affected except for some minor alteration to the front portion, which the city would pay for.

Kriss objected to the city’s action, calling for more negotiations and alleging that the city did not follow state regulations while seeking to acquire the land since 2003.

But Chris Mandenhall, the city’s eminent domain attorney, said all regulations were followed under state law.

She noted that the flower shop would still have access from the streets via two driveways.

Mayor Pro Tem Dave Gafin, who with Councilwoman Anne M. Bayer made up an ad hoc committee on the issue, said “we didn’t take any more then we needed for the widening. In fact, we agreed to a reduced width for the sidewalk.”

Councilman Mario Guerra agreed, saying, “this does not require the building to be changed or the business to close down. It must be done for the public good.”

Alvarez said Lakewood must be widened because of increased traffic, especially around the 160-acre site south of Stewart and Gray Road, now occupied by a shopping center.

Construction also is under way on a new park and the Columbia Memorial Space Center at Lakewood and Clark Avenue.

“The overall appearance, efficient operation and maintenance of Lakewood Boulevard is essential to the economic health and welfare of the city of Downey,” Alvarez said in a written report to the City Council.

Because of its age and traffic from some 40,000 vehicles a day, Lakewood Boulevard has deteriorated and does not meet state safety standards, he added.

Plans call for widening the thoroughfare from two to three lanes each way plus turning lanes, new curbs and gutters, landscaping and lighting.

The plan includes raised medians and synchronized traffic lights to improve traffic flow.

Phase one, widening Lakewood from Fifth Street south to Meadow Road, has been completed. Phase two, now under way, would widen the street from Meadow Road south past Imperial Highway to the city’s southern border at Gardendale Street.

Phase three calls for widening from Fifth Street north to the city limits at Telegraph Road.

In a related action Tuesday night, council directed city staff to seek bids for Phase three, with work to start in November. Estimated cost of the project is about $3 million, which is available from federal road and traffic grants, Alvarez said.

Completion is estimated for October 2008.

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