City’s condemnation case headed for court
The city of Craig’s demand for a piece of Stout Street property and its owner’s feelings that she should be compensated for 10 years of waiting for that decision will come to a head Thursday morning.
Fourteenth Judicial District Court Judge Mary Lynne James will rule on a motion for the city to take immediate possession of the property needed to extend Industrial Avenue two blocks. The hearing begins at 9 a.m.
More than a year ago, the Craig City Council passed a motion to take possession of four lots using its power of eminent domain, claiming negotiations with owner Sandra Baird were going nowhere.
Baird claims the city didn’t make much of an effort at negotiations, offering her only the appraised value of the property — $80,000 — and nothing for the 10 years she says she didn’t have use of the property because of the city’s indecision.
The city first addressed extending Industrial Avenue in the early 1990s and had an appraisal done on two of Baird’s four lots. The project was cancelled and nothing more was done. According to court documents, the appraisal was the only step taken to condemn Baird’s property. No formal offer was made.
Baird claims, according to court documents, that in informal discussions with various city employees over the last 10 years, it was indicated the project was not dead and they would still move to condemn her property when the time was right and the money available.
She says she’s not been able to improve the property because of that threat.
Money became available for the project when the city was awarded a grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.
That grant is one of the reasons there’s need for such haste on the condemnation, according to a brief filed by City Attorney Sherman Romney.
DOLA’s deadline on construction on the street is Dec. 31 and the city will have to request an extension.
“However, it is essential the city complete acquisition of the land and begin the construction process to be able to get the extension of time on the grant,” Romney stated in court records.
Baird claims there’s no need for such haste, considering the city already has waited 10 years to determine what it will do with the property. She says the project can wait until the court places a specific value on her loss. She has asked that a jury hear her case.
“(The city) has threatened to condemn and infringed on (Baird’s) use of the property for a period of 10 years and should be stopped now from suggesting that there is some immediacy in the city’s need for possession,” according to Baird’s attorney, J. Richard Tremaine of Klauzer and Tremaine LLC in Steamboat Springs.
Romney replied that a failure by a property owner to use and improve one’s property because of a perceived threat of condemnation does not constitute a taking.
Baird also is arguing the city doesn’t need to condemn all four of her lots, saying just two would be sufficient for the construction
of a road.
Leaving Baird two of the lots would leave the house that’s sitting there — or most of it. Leaving the entire house would put it five feet from where a sidewalk will run. Baird has offered to remove a portion of the house, which would put it 10 feet from the sidewalk. But Romney said the city requires a home to be at least 25 feet from the sidewalk and does not want to make an exception in this case because of safety issues.
“The city council determined that it would be in the best interest of the city and would be most safe if we take the entire property,” according to Romney. “The city council determined that the city did not want to create a non-conforming use, with significant safety concerns, by leaving the house structure so close to the street.”
The city must demonstrate several issues in order to take immediate possession of the property, including its authority to condemn, a public purpose for the taking, a need for the taking, that it has made an offer for the property, and that good faith negotiations were held.
Romney filed a brief with the court June 29 outlining those issues.
“Construction of streets and roads are a valid public purpose,” the brief states.
Tremaine wrote in his brief that “(Baird) states the roadway proposed by the city is not for a public purpose, but is for the benefit of private property owners and private businesses.”
The city made a formal offer for the property and hired a real estate agent to further discuss the matter with Baird. After that, all communications were done informally through attorneys.
“All of these negotiations have more than exceeded the legal minimum standard,” he stated in his brief to the court.
Romney cites a case in which sending a formal letter and giving sufficient time to reply to that letter were considered good faith negotiations.
Baird did not have an alternate appraisal done on the property nor did she make the city a counter offer.
After she contacted an attorney and filed suit against the city, she did offer a settlement to which no comment nor reply was made.
If the city’s motion for immediate possession is approved, the city will put down $80,000 as a deposit on the property until it is determined by a court whether more is owed based on Baird’s claims.
Romney said the city is hopeful it will be granted possession of the property at the hearing.
“We’ll just have to wait and see how it all shakes out in court,” he said.
Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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