The NEIU land grab and a bill to stop it

The NEIU land grab and a bill to stop it

Just because a public entity wants land doesn’t mean it should be able to take it for any reason.

Do you own a home or business near a public university in Illinois? Should you be forced to sell your property the moment the university wants to take it, even if its plan is not based on a true public need?

Some university administrators think so. Northeastern Illinois University, or NEIU, located in the North Park neighborhood on Chicago’s far northwest side, has filed eminent-domain proceedings against six nearby property owners on the 3400 block of Bryn Mawr Avenue who don’t want to give up their businesses and homes.

NEIU’s plan is to raze the existing properties along that block to build new dorms. The idea is that the dorms will attract more students, helping to reverse NEIU’s declining enrollment. To accomplish this, it would contract with American Campus Communities, a private developer. NEIU has traditionally been a commuter school, without any university housing. However, instead of limiting its construction to the 67 acres of land it already owns (much of which is empty), the university wants to displace 10 small businesses – including a bank, restaurants, a dentist’s office, real-estate agency and others – for the proposed development.

Under current eminent-domain law, a unit of government can seize private property so long as it’s for “public use” and if it offers the owner “just compensation.” Because NEIU is a public university, a court would consider any land NEIU wants to take as a “public use.”

The university first filed eminent-domain proceedings in August, and has continued to pressure the property owners to sell their land. But the university announced it was moving ahead with part of its dorm construction on its own vacant land, proving it doesn’t have a clear need to use eminent domain at all.

A new bill introduced by state Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston, would put a stop to NEIU’s land grab. HB 2558 would amend the state’s eminent-domain law to limit public universities’ use of eminent domain in two ways:

  • Allowing universities to use eminent domain only when their current land reserves are insufficient for a development
  • Restricting universities from using eminent domain to give land for the ownership or use of private third parties

These are mild, common-sense limits on how universities can invoke eminent-domain power. Universities would have to prove expansion is necessary, and could not take private land from one group for the benefit of other private persons.

Illinois state lawmakers have made widely bipartisan efforts to reform eminent-domain law in the past. Illinois was one of 42 states that passed limits on eminent-domain transfers for private development after the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial Kelo v. City of New London decision.

Just because a public entity wants land doesn’t mean it should be able to take it for any reason. Passing this bill would place sensible, critically necessary limits on the government’s eminent-domain power and help protect private property rights in Illinois.

To protect property rights on Bryn Mawr Avenue and in neighborhoods across Illinois, visit

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