URBANA — Champaign County Board members voted Thursday night to authorize the use of eminent domain in the event that negotiations break down on the purchase of property for the long-debated Olympian Drive project north of Urbana.
The board voted 15-9 to grant County Engineer Jeff Blue and legal counsel the authority to acquire the property by condemnation if a mutually acceptable price for the land cannot be reached by Oct. 1.
There was virtually no debate on the issue, although Republican board members had spent much of their pre-meeting caucus complaining about the use of eminent domain. The nine votes against authorizing its use came from eight Republicans and one Democrat, Pattsi Petrie of Champaign. Twelve Democrats and three Republicans — Gary Maxwell, Max Mitchell and Jon Schroder — voted to authorize the use of eminent domain.
The Olympian Drive project, which involves building a bypass connecting a north Urbana industrial area with Interstate 57, has been a controversial issue for years. Although the city of Urbana is building the project, the land is in the county and therefore has required county approval at virtually every step.
Mahomet Republican Stephanie Holderfield said she voted against the use of eminent domain because it is a property-rights issue.
"I won't under any circumstances vote to seize somebody's land rights. I'm absolutely against that," she said. "Too often I've seen eminent domain end very badly. I just think it sends a loud and clear message when government seizes property for maybe not the right reason.
"This is a good reason, but it's not reason enough to utilize eminent domain. I'm against eminent domain under any circumstances."
Board members accepted a gift of two large photographs of the county courthouse from former board member Steve Beckett of Urbana. The first image, in black and white, is believed to have been taken in 1922. The second one, taken at the same angle by News-Gazette photographer John Dixon, shows the courthouse in color and includes the recent $27 million addition to the building.
Beckett said the photos illustrate what can be done when elected officials work together.
"My wife and I hope that when you come into this meeting room and you see these photos, you'll be reminded what you working together can accomplish for the citizens of our county," Beckett said.
Dixon added, "One of the fun parts of my job is capturing history, and history is made every day in Champaign-Urbana. I like the (older) photograph on the left. There are pretty colors in the one on the right, it's a pretty building. I love the historic nature of the photo on the left.
"But that's the nice thing about the picture that I took because in 100 years someone's going to dust that print off and say, 'What a neat old building.'"
Officials also held a drawing at the meeting where two- and four-year terms were awarded to the county board candidates on the Nov. 6 ballot.
The board also approved a change in the City of Champaign Precinct 5 polling place, moving the election station from Snyder Hall on the University of Illinois campus to a new student dining facility at 301 E. Gregory Drive, C.
Among the board members absent from Thursday's meeting were Democrats Carol Ammons and Michael Richards, and Republican Jeff Kibler.