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In Re Village of Bridgeview

OPINION FILED DECEMBER 30, 1985.

IN RE VILLAGE OF BRIDGEVIEW, COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS, SPECIAL ASSESSMENT (THE VILLAGE OF BRIDGEVIEW, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,

v.

F. STRICKLAND ET AL., OBJECTORS-APPELLEES).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Marjan P. Staniec, Judge, presiding.

PRESIDING JUSTICE BUCKLEY DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The present appeal arises out of an action instituted by the village of Bridgeview for authority to construct a local improvement by special assessment. Following a jury trial, a verdict was returned reducing the assessments of 50 lots by approximately 50%. The village appeals from the judgment entered on the jury's verdict. For the following reasons, we affirm.

The record reveals that on February 10, 1983, the village filed a petition in the circuit court seeking authority to construct a local improvement by special assessment in the Bridgeview Gardens Subdivision. The improvement was to consist of street improvements and storm sewers. Thereafter, in June 1983, the village filed its assessment roll and report which identified the property to be assessed and the amount of each assessment. Fifty assessees, hereinafter called objectors, filed legal and benefit objections to the assessment as they are authorized to do under the Illinois Municipal Code. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 24, par. 9-2-55.) The trial court overruled the legal objections, but scheduled a jury trial on the objectors' contention that they were not benefitted by the improvement to the amount they were assessed.

Prior to trial, the village presented a motion in limine seeking to prevent the objectors from offering evidence or testimony pertaining to: (1) the employment or economic status of any of the objectors; and (2) the effect on value the proposed improvement would have, unless the witness had been properly qualified as an expert. During oral argument on the motion in limine, counsel for the objectors stated they planned to offer general demographics and statistics pertaining to the income of residents in the area. Counsel for the objectors informed the court he would not "have people come in and say `Joe Blow, the objector, he makes five thousand dollars.'" After hearing arguments, the court granted the motion in limine on the effect on value the proposed improvement would have, unless the witness was an expert, but stated it would wait to see "how you're going to go on the economics." Shortly thereafter, the village presented a draft order which was modified and signed by the court. Although the original document then signed by the court has purportedly disappeared, the court on June 29, 1984, entered an order nunc pro tunc as of November 15, 1983, so as to accurately reflect its intent in ruling on the village's motion in limine. In that order, the court expressed its intention to prohibit testimony as to the economic status of any individual objector, but to allow such economic evidence concerning the geographic area as a whole.

At trial, three witnesses testified on behalf of the objectors. The first was Linda Annen, a local real estate broker and an objector, who had performed at least 20 market analyses. Annen stated that because of the physical nature of the homes in Bridgeview Gardens, the improvements would have no appreciable effect on their market value.

The second witness called by the objectors was James Kirk, a 15-year resident of Bridgeview Gardens and an assessee. Kirk testified that the area was subject to pollution from local industry and the pollution was present when he bought his home. He also stated that the question concerning the construction of improvements was "overwhelmingly defeated" in a village-wide referendum.

The last witness called by the objectors was Thomas Holcer, a real estate appraiser qualified and accepted as an expert witness. Holcer presented a methodology of real estate valuation and forecasting of the fluctuations of real estate values as a function of mortgage interest rates, buyer's income, and the demographic characteristics of the community. Holcer's opinion, based upon prevailing mortgage rates, United States census data, on site review of the area and comparable real estate sales, was that the proposed improvement would increase the market value of real estate in the area by $1,000 to $1,500.

After the objectors rested their case, the village moved to strike Holcer's testimony on the ground of relevance. The motion was denied.

Three witnesses testified for the village. Frank Bilich, superintendent of the department of public works of the village of Bridgeview, testified that the streets and ditches that existed throughout Bridgeview Gardens did not meet the village's current standards. The streets were originally constructed of stone and chip, and were patched on an as-needed basis. The irregularities in the streets made them difficult to plow and sweep. In the winter, ice formed on them, making travel dangerous.

The second witness called by the village was Russell Prekwas, a civil and electrical engineer who designed the plans for the Bridgeview Gardens improvement. Prekwas explained that the poor condition of the roadway surfaces throughout the subdivision was caused in part by poor drainage. He stated that the proposed improvements would remove storm water from Bridgeview Gardens more efficiently than the current system of drainage ditches.

The third witness called by the village was Thomas Collins, an expert real estate appraiser. Collins testified that the value of a typical house in Bridgeview Gardens was $50,000 and that the improvements would increase its fair market value from $4,000 to 10% of its value. He reached this opinion by visiting Bridgeview Gardens 12 to 20 times; by comparing the sales prices of lots with full public improvements to the prices of lots without public improvements; and by drawing upon his 32 years of experience as a real estate appraiser. Collins further testified that high interest rates impact the value of real estate.

After hearing all of the evidence and viewing the assessment site, the jury reduced the assessments to the objectors' property by an average of $2,000 per lot. The court entered judgment on the jury's verdict. The village filed a post-trial motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, alternatively, for a new trial. The motion was denied.

I

• 1 On appeal, the village first argues that the testimony of the objectors' expert, Thomas Holcer, should have been stricken because it was based on improper elements. In particular, the village contends that Holcer, in arriving at his opinion of valuation, improperly considered the role that median household income in a particular area plays in the determination of the value of residential real estate in that area. In support of its contention that Holcer's testimony must be stricken, the village cites City of Chicago v. Van Schaack Brothers Chemical Works, Inc. (1928), 330 Ill. 264, 275, 161 N.E. 486, which held that "[o]pinions, to be admissible, must result from a consideration of lawful elements constituting the benefit." That case involved the admissibility of testimony relating to value based ...


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