It seems like all over the country, large institutions like universities and hospitals are constantly expanding into their surroundings and changing the character of their neighborhoods. For many property owners, the boost in property values provided by new institutional development is often tempered by the fear that sprawl is eventually going to force them out.
Several property owners in Utica, New York, are experiencing precisely this scenario as the county and city are proposing a parking garage as a complement to Mohawk Valley Heath’s downtown Utica Hospital project. The new hospital will involve a 25-acre campus in the neighborhood of Oriskany, Columbia, and State Streets and Broadway, according to a report in the Utica Observer-Dispatch. The proposed garage would sit across from the hospital on Lafayette Street, between Cornelia and State Streets, and would have about 1,500 spots. The hospital would also have surface lots for employees and other parking in addition to the garage.
During a meeting, Oneida County attorney Peter Rayhill told the Ways and Means Committee that the proposed garage would affect 14 parcels owned by 10 property owners. Rayhill went on to explain that of those 10, four may be unwilling to sell their property, which would mean that the county would need to use eminent domain to obtain it.
Subsequently, the Oneida County Board of Legislators voted to authorize Rayhill’s office to handle any eminent domain issues that may arise in regard to the proposed parking garage. According to officials, any eminent domain action would only arise once the New York State Environmental Quality Review process for the project has been completed.
Receiving notice that your property may be subject to eminent domain is a nightmare that homeowners go through every day across the United States. While the idea that the government can step in and force people to sell their property seems to go against everything we know about private property ownership, it’s the reality in which we live.
Fortunately for landowners, there are limits to the way in which the government can use eminent domain. One of these limits is that to use eminent domain to acquire private property, the taking must serve some public purpose. When most people hear the term public purpose, they have a common-sense understanding of the phrase and take it to mean that eminent domain can be used to do things like build hospitals, schools, libraries, parks, roads, or other things that benefit all of us together. While it is certainly true that everything listed in the last sentence would almost certainly pass the public purpose test, courts have interpreted the public purpose requirement broadly over the year and governments can authorize private companies (like utility providers) to exercise eminent domain on their behalf.
To understand just how broad the definition of a public purpose has become, look at the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London. In that case, the court upheld the use of eminent domain to transfer property to a private developer who had plans to develop the land. The court reasoned that because economic development would benefit the community as a whole, the transfer was for a legitimate public purpose.
So, to answer the question posed above, you can challenge a proposed exercise of eminent domain, but courts deem most eminent domain actions valid. The best way to find out whether you can fight back after receiving an eminent domain notice is to discuss your case with an experienced lawyer as soon as possible. The sooner you talk to a lawyer, the better the chances that you can find a way to stop the proposed eminent domain action before the condemning authority seeks court approval to force a sale.
If it looks like the proposed use of eminent domain that is going to affect your property is valid (as most are), then your next step is making sure that you get as much compensation as you possibly can for your property. In most cases, this means settling your case with the party seeking to acquire your land. In an eminent domain settlement, both parties concede that a forced sale will be the outcome of potential litigation, so they agree to try to find a sale price that works for both parties.
If you’re at this point in your eminent domain case, you only have one opportunity to settle your case and receive just compensation for your property. If you sign a settlement agreement that does not adequately compensate you for your land, you have little recourse in the future. Always retain an experienced eminent domain lawyer to represent you in settlement negotiations with an adverse party.
There are many ways to determine a property’s value in eminent domain actions, and the method used can have a significant impact on how much a landowner gets. For example, the value of a multi-unit investment property should be assessed differently than an owner-occupied home. An attorney familiar with eminent domain law will protect your rights and help you obtain as much compensation as possible for your property.
At Sever Storey, we are committed to helping landowners protect their rights and obtain just compensation for their properties. With more than 25 years of combined legal experience, our team has the skill and acumen required to bring your case to a favorable resolution. To schedule a free case evaluation with an eminent domain attorney, call our office today at (888) 318-3761 or contact us online.
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Before going alone against the State let us give you our opinion. It is our pledge that we will provide a free case review for any individual or business facing eminent domain or condemnation. Contact us now at 888-318-3761