The owners of a pizzeria at the center of a religious liberty debate have had their liberty curtailed twice before.
According to press reports in the Indiana newspapers from 2011, Memories Pizza owner Kevin O’Connor and his family have had their homes confiscated by eminent domain twice previously.
LAKEVILLE – Kevin O’Connor and his family are settling into their new home after being forced out of another one by the government.
He’s been through this whole ordeal before.
“Yeah, I can’t believe this could happen to somebody a second time in their lifetime,” he laments, stepping away from the pizza oven and into his office at Memories Pizza.
The O’Connors now live closer to their Walkerton business after the new U.S. 31 was set to run through their former home in Lakeville.
When he was a teenager, his family’s farm near North Liberty was bought to become part of Potato Creek State Park. And, coincidentally, his wife, Carol, was about 5 when her family lost a big chunk of their yard near Stevensville to I-94.
“I tell people never to move next to us,” Kevin jokes.
In 1994, the O’Connors, wanting to live in the country, bought a house on Pierce Road, where they have been raising their nine children.
“We heard that the new highway was coming through, but we had no clue it’d be coming our way,” Kevin says.
Like some of their neighbors, they say the worst part was being in limbo for a few years.
“From 2005, we were in a can’t-do-anything mode,” he says. “We knew things would be happening, we just didn’t know when. It seemed like this hand didn’t know what the other hand was doing.”
They had relocation and appraisal meetings with state representatives; the state tried to help them find a new house for their large family and came up with one in Mishawaka. Not exactly country.
Eventually, the O’Connors found a large house near Walkerton.
“We actually bettered ourselves,” Kevin admits. “It’s a good house in the country, bigger than our old one, with more acreage – 25 acres.
“I don’t feel so bad about leaving, it was just the way it happened.”
Kevin still has bitter feelings about his childhood family farm.
“We lost our family homestead because the powers that be in St. Joseph County wanted a park there,” he says. “I still haven’t gotten over it; my parents never did. Once is bad enough, but to have it happen twice …”