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There's a tug-of-war going on in Lemon Grove. Clutching one side of the rope is the city of Lemon Grove and at the other end is businessman Salvatore D'Anna and neighboring businesses that occupy a small commercial strip mall on North Avenue in Lemon Grove. If D'Anna and his neighbors win, the city has to drop the threat of seizing the property where his office and several small businesses are located, as well as any hopes of acquiring the neighboring storage facility next door. If the city yanks hardest, the multimillion-dollar project to realign the Lemon Grove Avenue exit ramp from highway 94 is on and an initiative to redevelop and improve the look of downtown Lemon Grove is one step closer.

Last year, the city made offers to buy the properties on North Avenue, but the owners rejected them. And now, the city hopes to seize them through eminent domain.

D'Anna says neither he nor the other tenants knew anything about the threat of eminent domain. "We heard rumors but nothing else," he says.

In December of 2009 those rumors turned to fact when D'Anna and the other tenants were served with a Motion for Order of Possession from the Lemon Grove Development Agency, which is composed of city councilmembers, for properties located between 7752 and 7756 North Avenue. According to court documents, the motion is set for hearing on March 19 at the county courthouse in El Cajon.

After receiving the notice, D'Anna, who is pursuing a degree in law, submitted a motion to be heard on the same day to quash the city's request to seize any properties.

He believes city officials are using the highway realignment project as a ruse to seize the properties. In fact, says D'Anna, according to traffic studies the realignment project does not alleviate traffic but instead exacerbates freeway congestion, thus rendering the project unnecessary. D'Anna also feels the proposal does not have the "greatest public good" in mind.

"They want this property because they don't want it to be the first thing people see when coming into Lemon Grove," says D'Anna during a February 4 phone interview. He says that the redevelopment agency has never designated the area as a blighted area and because of that they cite the freeway off-ramp proposal as the basis for acquiring the properties.

From now until the March 19 hearing, D'Anna plans to compile all city documents on the issue, that is if the city provides him with those documents. Late last month, the city clerk's office contacted D'Anna stating that they do not have the "expertise or equipment" to provide him with copies of the documents he requested on a disc and that he needs to go down to city hall to wade through them in person.

To download a map of the downtown Lemon Grove redevelopment project area, go to ci.lemon-grove.ca.us.

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