City uses eminent domain to ‘take’ two properties for projects
Prescott proposal include bridge replacement, drainage improvement
In its ongoing efforts to move forward with a bridge replacement and a drainage project, the City of Prescott agreed this week to seek the “taking” of two properties.
In two unanimous actions on Tuesday, May 14, the Prescott City Council approved using its eminent domain authority to purchase parcels that city officials say are necessary to move forward on the replacement of the Government Canyon Bridge on Butterfield Road, as well as on a drainage improvement on Hope Street.
The council discussed both matters (the City vs. Cactus Mobile Ranch Home Park LLC, and the City vs. IATIA Revocable Living Trust) in closed-door executive session earlier Tuesday, before making the decision during the afternoon public voting meeting to proceed with the eminent-domain proceedings.
Prescott City Attorney Jon Paladini said that in both cases, the city attempted to reach agreements with the property owners, but was unable to come to terms on the purchases.
Because both projects relate to “public health and safety,” he said, the city opted to use eminent domain.
“Lest anyone think we recommend this lightly, we do not,” Paladini said, noting that the city uses its eminent domain authority on “a very, very tiny percentage” of projects.
Public Works Director Craig Dotseth told the council that the bridge “was deemed to be unsafe, and is in need of replacement.”
DISAGREEMENT OVER ‘JUST COMPENSATION’
Although the eminent domain actions are considered “takings,” Paladini said the city had an appraisal done on the properties and was proposing to pay the property owners “just compensation.”
In the case of the Government Canyon Bridge, a city memo notes that the bridge is adjacent to and east of property belonging to the Cactus Mobile Ranch Home Community LLC. The bridge project requires a slope and drainage easement from the mobile home park.
“Despite repeated attempts to reach a mutually acceptable purchase price, the owner of Cactus Mobile Ranch Home Community LLC refuses to grant the easements to the city,” the memo states.
The city’s appraisal valued the 5,213-square-foot easement at $6,300, and that is the amount the council authorized paying.
Stuart Gross, the trustee of the property, did not attend the Tuesday meeting but said later that he disagreed with the city’s offer.
“They offered us $6,300, and that property is worth more than six grand,” Gross said, estimating that the property may be worth as much as $25,000, although he did not have his own appraisal done.
During the negotiations, Gross said he proposed giving the easement to the city in exchange for hooking the mobile home park into the city’s water system. He said he also suggested being annexed into Prescott city limits. “The city basically said no,” he said of his proposals.
Gross maintains that the city’s stance on the matter is part of an area-wide effort to eliminate mobile home parks.
He also said he was unaware that the City Council would be discussing his case this week. “I’m very disappointed with the city; they should have called me and let me know about this,” Gross said Thursday, May 16.
Paladini responded that the city had tried numerous times to contact the property owner, and also sent an offer letter. Although the city did not call Gross specifically about this week’s meeting, Paladini said the council agenda item was properly noticed beforehand.
SUPERIOR COURT PROCESS
Paladini added that this week’s council action gives the city legal department the authority to start the eminent domain proceedings, but the matter still has to go through the Yavapai County Superior Court process.
In future steps, the city will file a complaint in Superior Court asking for immediate possession of the easement. Then, a hearing on immediate possession will take place, at which time the property owner still has an opportunity to litigate the matter.
Of Gross’ proposal to receive city water in exchange for the easement, Paladini said the city cannot legally compensate an owner more than the property is worth. “It would be a gift, so it would be illegal to do that,” he said.
The other eminent domain proceeding involved a 660-square-foot parcel for a drainage easement, and a 1,005-square-foot parcel for a temporary construction easement for improvements to the drainage system on Hope Street.
The city’s appraisal valued those two easements at $4,805, and that is what the council approved paying to owner, IATIA Revocable Living Trust. A representative of the trust was unavailable for comment this week.