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Owner of land town sold by mistake refuses Merrillville’s latest offer

Updated: March 8, 2014 6:26AM



MERRILLVILLE — Town officials are weighing their next step now that the individual who bought town property at a tax sale for $250 has refused their offer of $58,600 to buy it back.

The Town Council will meet in executive session to discuss the matter.

“I’m so ashamed and embarrassed for our residents,” Councilman Shawn Pettit, D-6th, a resident of The Preserve, said at a recent council meeting.

He said the buyer has threatened litigation against people who live by the property, which is in The Preserve subdivision. The buyer, Antonio Alvarez, previously told the Post-Tribune some residents had erected sheds, fences and other items that have encroached onto the property he purchased.

The 28-acre parcel is in the subdivision off Mississippi Street, directly behind Southlake Mall. It was dedicated to the town and is intended to be used as open space and for drainage.

However, it was inadvertently placed in the Lake County Treasurer’s tax sale in 2010 and purchased for $250 by Xavier Research Institute LTD, of Chicago, which Alvarez owns.

The town has since tried to reacquire the property, first offering Alvarez $1,000, which Alvarez refused. After Alvarez took a couple of neighbors to court for trespassing, the town began condemnation proceedings last fall to get the property back.

Town Attorney John Bushemi said under condemnation proceedings, the town is first required by law to offer the purchaser the appraised market value price for the property, which came out to $58,600.

“His (Alvarez’s) attorney’s response was he (Alvarez) wanted a higher amount,” Bushemi said.

He said Alvarez’s attorney, Richard Shapiro, of Schererville, did not give a specific amount that his client wanted.

Shapiro would not comment, saying he doesn’t comment on pending cases.

Bushemi said one option is for the town to proceed with the condemnation proceedings in court. He said it would either be filed in Lake Circuit Court or Lake Superior Court.

If the court grants the condemnation, it will award the property to the town and the judge will determine the cost the town must pay Alvarez for the land, Bushemi said.

“The judge could say the town needs to pay more for the property or the judge could say the town needs to pay less than the fair market value,” Bushemi said. “It would be up to the court’s discretion.”

Bushemi said the town would not be obligated to offer any more money than it has.

“It had a professional appraisal done from a very qualified appraiser,” Bushemi said.

He added, however, that going to court for condemnation could be very costly for the property owner.

“The town isn’t required to pay his court costs,” Bushemi said.

Alvarez told the Post-Tribune last fall that the property was assessed at $65,000.

He said then he still didn’t know what he wanted to do with the property. He hadn’t ruled out the possibility of developing the land, but said someone might want to put a soccer field there.



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