By Xochitl Peña

The city plans to use eminent domain to acquire the final property needed to begin major road renovations along Monroe Street from Avenue 49 to Avenue 52.

After about a year of negotiations, the property owner, Muriel Weiner, and the city have not been able to agree on a purchase price.

The Indio City Council last week approved the use of eminent domain, which allows a city to take private property for public use.

Mark Wasserman, assistant to the Indio city manager, said the improving Monroe Street is a priority for the city.

These particular improvements from Avenues 49 to 52 run from the La Quinta border, past the Empire Polo Club to the south side of Indian Palms Country Club.

“Obviously with the two music festivals (Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and the Stagecoach Country Music Festival) right there it’s very important to get people in and out of the festival quickly and safely,” Wasserman said.

The improvement plan is to eventually transform that rural stretch of road into a five-lane street with two lanes each way, a turning lane, Americans with Disabilities Act-approved sidewalks, gutters and a multi-use trail that runs alongside the polo fields.

Jim Collins, chief executive officer of Include Me, Inc., a nonprofit agency that provides services for persons with disabilities, appreciates the construction of sidewalks in that area.

“You have no pedestrian path of travel between Avenue 50 and Avenue 52 at this point,” said Collins, who uses a motorized wheelchair to get around. “There’s no way for anyone to get to any of the events at the polo (fields). I’d have to roll in Monroe Street with cars going by at 35 to 50 mph.”

Michael S. Kahn, attorney for the owner, said his client supports the public use of the land, but does not think the city is offering a fair price.

“We belive it’s worth more than the $32,000 they are now offering,” he said.

His client had an independent appraisal conducted that came in at slightly more than $100,000, Kahn said.

The city in October offered Weiner $62,500 for her two parcels — one is 7,980 square feet and the other is 152 square feet — based on appraisals conducted in late 2007 and August 2008.

Then on March 11, the city rescinded that offer based on updated appraisals taken and reduced its offer to $32,182.

City officials say the changes in the real estate market prompted the city to re-appraise the parcels.

Wasserman said the improvements to that area will be done in two phases. The first phase is estimated to cost $1.5 million and will include drainage improvements and the undergrounding of utilities.

He said the goal is to have those completed in time for the concerts this coming in the spring.

The second phase is estimated to cost $1.7 million and would include the road widening, sidewalks, landscaping and the trail, and would be complete by spring 2011.

Funding for the improvements will come from the state gas tax and voter approved Measure A funds.

“The council said four years ago roads were their top priority. We’ve continued to use those as our guiding principals,” Wasserman said.

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