While Barbara Buescher hopes to continue litigating the Jefferson City Housing Authority's condemnation suit, another pair of property owners plans to voluntarily hand over their property to the Housing Authority.
During Monday's court hearing, Buescher, who owns 101 and 105 Jackson St., appeared in court for the first time since the Housing Authority filed a condemnation civil suit for 101, 103 and 105 Jackson St. in August. Stephen and Cheryl Bratten own 103 Jackson St.
Buescher testified she did not recall receiving several certified letters last summer stating the Housing Authority wished to take possession of her two Jackson Street properties. She added she does not recall receiving a court summons either.
Cole County Judge Dan Green ruled in December that Buescher had been given adequate notice of a summons to court after the Housing Authority attempted to serve Buescher, to no success, for four months.
The Housing Authority told her it wanted to buy her properties in the spring, Buescher said, but she did not want to sell them.
"It's been in our family for years," she said in court Monday. "We don't want to sell them."
She said she did not recall receiving letters notifying her the Housing Authority planned to proceed with eminent domain if she did not sell the properties.
Her attorney, Thomas Snider, said Buescher was not living at the East Capitol Avenue home where the letters and summons were sent. Buescher said she did live at that East Capitol Avenue address but not during the timeframe when the Housing Authority was sending certified mail and trying to serve a summons.
She said she never intentionally did not answer the door for someone trying to serve her a court summons.
John Pletz, representing the Housing Authority, presented Buescher past certified letters and mail receipts containing signatures that they were received. One receipt showed a letter was delivered to and received at an address different than what it was addressed to.
Housing Authority Executive Director Cynthia Quetsch testified Buescher called her last summer to say she had received letters but misplaced them, asking that they be sent again to the East Capitol Avenue home where the letters and summons originally were sent.
Snider noted early in the negotiation process that the Housing Authority had sent certified letters to two Buescher-owned East Capitol Avenue properties.
Snider filed a motion to set aside prior orders that had been presented in the case on the basis Buescher had not been given adequate notice of the possible condemnations and summons since the letters and summons were sent to a property Buescher said was not her residence at the time. Green tentatively sustained that motion "subject to our ability to show whether Ms. Buescher has a meritorious defense to overturn the decisions that have been made in the case so far," Snider said.
He said Buescher wants a hearing regarding whether the Housing Authority can take her properties.
"What Judge Green did was he found a way to allow Ms. Buescher the opportunity to convince the court that her properties are not subject to eminent domain but still preserve the validity of the actions that have been taken thus far," Snider said. "There have been quite a few decisions made so far in the case, so rather than going all the way back to the beginning and starting over, the judge is going to allow Ms. Buescher her day in court to present evidence."
The next court date is unknown, as Snider and Buescher must receive transcripts of prior proceedings and copies of evidence presented so far. From there, Snider and Buescher will review these and decide what additional evidence or counter evidence could be presented in court.
"There will be a wait before we can move forward with final resolution on 101 and 105 (Jackson St.)," Pletz said.
Buescher did not wish to comment after Monday's court hearing.
While a hearing is being set for Buescher, the Brattens plan to voluntarily give 103 Jackson St. to the Housing Authority, their attorney, Ryan Waters, said Monday.
"The case has been tried, and we didn't really have an (apparent) legal defense, as the city proceeded appropriately from what I knew," Waters said. "My clients were properly served; and, therefore, we entered our arguments, but the city basically has legal authority to take it based on the judgment of Judge Green so at this point, we're trying to give over possession voluntarily."
The Brattens are in the process of clearing out the home and most likely will hand over the keys to the Housing Authority soon, Waters said.
In February, the Housing Authority paid $153,000 for 101, 103 and 105 Jackson St. and to cover the cost of the court-appointed commissioners' time. Three court-appointed commissioners assessed the properties in January, with 101 and 103 Jackson St. appraised at $55,000 each and 105 Jackson St. appraised at $39,000.
The Housing Authority offered to purchase the properties before filing the civil suit, Quetsch said, but Buescher refused and the Brattens did not respond to the offer.
A year ago, the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, residents and city staff listed seven top-priority properties in the East Capitol Avenue urban renewal area. The Housing Authority received and reviewed appraisals for the seven properties — 101, 103, 105 and 108 Jackson St., as well as 401, 500 and 501 E. Capitol Ave.
The Jefferson City Council approved the East Capitol Avenue urban renewal zone, bordered by East State Street, Lafayette Street, East High Street — including some parcels on the south side of East High Street — and Adams Street in 2016 after a study found the area to be blighted due to deteriorating conditions of some properties.