By John Woolfolk
San Jose officials are offering more than $2 million to buy the site of an East Taylor Street drug and alcohol rehabilitation center and settle the owner’s lawsuit accusing the city of unfairly denying its expansion.
City officials say the land, about seven-tenths of an acre between East Taylor Street, Highway 101 and Watson Park, is needed for freeway interchange improvements to accommodate a planned Berryessa Bay Area Rapid Transit station nearby.
The City Council is expected Tuesday to approve the proposed settlement with Sunnyvale dentist John Licking, who owns the property and the LifeChoices rehabilitation center located there.
“I would characterize this in technical legal terms as a twofer,” said Councilman Sam Liccardo, who represents the area. “We’re resolving the suit with the added benefit of getting land that we wanted to buy anyway.”
Licking’s lawyer, Stuart Kirchick, said his client felt that given the likelihood the city would seek to acquire the property through eminent domain, it was a reasonable settlement.
“It’s a difficult situation to be in,” said Kirchick. “Looking to the future, the city was going to say ‘We want this property.’ Given the situation he’s in, this a good resolution.”
LifeChoices treats hundreds of people a year wrestling with drug or alcohol addiction. Licking bought the property in 2001 and hoped to expand its capacity. Though the proposed expansion would require a zoning change, it was consistent with the city’s general plan.
But in September 2002, the council rejected the rezoning, with former Councilwoman Cindy Chavez, who represented the district at the time, calling it premature in light of future BART or park expansion plans.
Licking sued in 2007, alleging the real reason the project was rejected was opposition from nearby residents who objected to having more recovering addicts in their neighborhood. The suit argued that the city’s move constituted discrimination against the disabled.
With the Berryessa BART station expected to be completed in 2018, city officials said acquiring the property for related road improvements would demonstrate commitment to the transit project, which can help secure grant funding.
The settlement calls for the city to pay $2 million for the land, which is about what an appraiser said it would be worth had the rezoning been approved.
The city will rent the property to LifeChoices for $1 a year until it is needed for the freeway project.
The city also must pay an additional amount to be determined through arbitration to compensate Licking for the value of the business on the property. The money to buy the site will come from funds the city has set aside for transportation improvements.
Liccardo said the city would likely have ended up paying more for both an eminent-domain acquisition and a separate legal settlement.
“As I see it,” he said, “it’s a bargain.”
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