The city of Hannibal is prepared to utilize eminent domain condemnation to help secure the final piece of a right-of-way easement puzzle that it needs to construct a sidewalk along Palmyra Road.
Eminent domain is the process through which a government entity can seize private property for public use, in exchange for payment of fair market value.
Two pieces of property necessary for the sidewalk project remain to be secured by the city. While one of the agreements is being finalized, the city and Missouri Department of Transportation have for many months been unsuccessfully attempting to make headway on securing right-of-way on property owned by Kevin and Donna Williams at 2220 Palmyra Road. Last week the City Council gave its approval to pursue eminent domain to take possession of the last plat of land it needs in order to construct a sidewalk along the busy roadway, from the middle school parking lot to the entrance of Riverview Park.
The property yet to be secure amounts to a “little over 1,000 square feet,” reports City Engineer Mark Rees.
“It isn’t much,” he said.
On the surface, it appears the easement hang-up is about money.
“They basically have indicated they want to be compensated for the right-of-way we need,” said Rees.
Kevin Williams says compensation is not at the root of the issue.
“It really has nothing to do with the money, it’s the principle,” he said. “If they want to spin it like it’s just me being objecting to progress, that’s what they can do. It has nothing to do with it. They know what the situation is.”
Sources at city hall and Williams agree that the deadlock stems from a sewer issue the property owner had a few years ago. In 2007, Williams was compelled by the city to connect to the city’s sewer system after his home’s sewage was reportedly discovered flowing above ground through the neighborhood.
“They really took my family through a lot. They threatened to condemn my house. They cut our water off,” he said. “It cost me thousands and thousands of dollars. Now they want me to give them the easement.”
Williams doesn’t have a dollar figure in mind regarding what he wants for the easement.
“I don’t have a clue. It’s not the money, it’s the principle,” he said. “I didn’t have the money back then to do what they asked and they made me do it. But now they’re saying they don’t have the money, they just want me to give it to them. I just think it’s pretty poor.”
Page 2 of 3 - According to Rees, a right-of-way specialist with MoDOT has indicated it would pay between 50 cents and $1.60 per square foot to acquire property such as that needed for the project.
Williams says that after initially offering to pay for an easement, the city has now “pulled that off the table and they want us to give it to them.”
“In the (initial) form letter it probably mentions that he’s entitled to just compensation, but that we prefer to have and were seeking donated land,” said Rees.
The city started the eminent domain process last week.
“The first step is you serve the property owner with a 60-day demand letter. There’s certain disclosures (contained in the letter) you have to give them about the process,” said City Attorney James Lemon. “Basically you’re giving them a proposal to allow them to sell the right-of-way without the need for any kind of litigation. If you can’t come to terms with the landowner then ultimately you get to a point where you file litigation and there are different steps that can be taken there.”
A sentence contained in the “demand” letter that refers to “condemnation” has Williams on the defensive.
“They’re threatening to condemn my house because of the sidewalk project,” he said.
In fact, according to Rees, that sentence refers only to condemning the property necessary to complete the sidewalk, and not Williams’ home.
“People get that confused all the time,” said the city engineer.
The eminent domain process is not lengthy, according to Lemon.
“It’s mainly an idea that you want to give everybody their due process rights and the statutes provide that there are particular things you have to do. You have to give somebody enough time to consider your offer to determine if they want to go forward with it,” he said. “Once you get to the point where litigation is filed, that’s assuming you’re not able to come to terms with the landowner, the litigation process is not necessarily a long, drawn out thing.”
Rees remains hopeful the matter will be resolved before it reaches a courtroom.
“Almost all these settle before that because not too many of us on either side want to go through that process,” he said. “It’s expensive and doesn’t really accomplish a whole lot other than eventually we end up with the right-of-way.”
The city is understandably anxious to secure the property.
“It will be nice to have this one and soon be authorized to advertise this for bid and get under construction,” said Rees. “It’s inconvenient for us because we’re a little bit anxious to get started. It will delay the start for sure.”
Page 3 of 3 - Brian Chaplin, city project manager, suggested Wednesday that work on either side of Williams’ property could proceed before the final easement is secured.