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Avon landowner fights condemnation

Veronica Whitney

AVON – The owner of a piece of land targeted for a new transportation center has asked the court to dismiss a petition that would force him to sell the parcel to the town.Avon is attempting to condemn the land on Benchmark Road, known as Lot 2, to expand its regional transportation center by forcibly buying one-third of a 1-acre parcel owned by developer Al Williams of A.T.S. Joint Venture. Avon filed its petition for condemnation with Eagle County District Court on March 15. Now, Williams is fighting back.Williams declined to comment for this story. In a response to the town’s petition, an attorney for Williams, who also developed Avon Town Square, says the owner of the parcel rejects the argument the land is being taken for public purposes. The challenge was expected, said John Dunn, the town of Avon attorney. “Property owners always fight condemnation. Nobody likes their property being bought by the government,” Dunn said. The U.S. Constitution allows condemnation, also known as eminent domain, for public uses. A key attribute of eminent domain is that the government can force a sale even if the owner doesn’t wish to sell his or her property.”The town has the legal authority to condemn the land,” Dunn said. The town council also approved the condemnation in February.The tow hired a company from Englewood to appraise the land and offered Williams $674,800. The price includes $504,800 for the property, $50,000 for improvements – the land has a paved parking lot – and $120,000 for compensable damages based on the decline in market value of the remainder of the property or severance damage.The right move? One of the reasons Williams’ attorney cites when challenging the town’s petition is that there is no public purpose for the condemnation.Williams’ attorney also said the owners and tenants of the Avon Town Square have an interest in the land because they use it for parking and that Avon’s decision to condemn was been made in bad faith. Dunn said he had some difficulty understanding ” why it wouldn’t be a public purpose.””The purpose of the acquisition is as a transportation center that would be use by the public,” he said. Avon Councilwoman Debbie Buckley said she opposes taking Williams’ parcel. “Condemning land without a good reason, such as a safety problem, is wrong,” said Buckley, who voted against condemnation. “I think we should have tried to negotiate with the developer without jumping to condemnation. I don’t think any citizen should be forced to sell their land to the town.”I also question why we are in such a big hurry to build a bigger bus stop when we are not sure we can continue to run the buses,” she added.Avon Mayor Ron Wolfe, who voted for condemnation, said there’s not a problem with funding the bus service.”We are doing the usual budget evaluation and looking for maximum efficiency,” Wolfe said. Public transit is a key part of the town’s future growth plans, he said. The new transit center would replace the one next to the Avon Center. The town needs a bigger transportation center where more buses can circulate, Town Manager Larry Brooks said. Compensation issuesSteven Greenhut, a senior editorial writer and columnist for The Orange County Register in California who specializes in property rights, said using the land for a transportation center sounds like a public use.”The Constitution allows the use of eminent domain for public use, but you have to make a distinction between public use and public benefit,” said Greenhut, who recently wrote a book, “Abuse of Power: How the Government Misuses Eminent Domain.”Fair compensation to the land owners is one of the problems of eminent domain, even if the property is used for public purposes, Greenhut said.”Cities usually try to short change land owners,” he said. “In the end, the land owners have to pay for legal fees as well.” In their response to the town’s petition, Williams and the other respondents are asking for attorney fees and costs. A court hearing has yet to be scheduled.==========================================Owner’s argumentIn a response to Avon’s petition to condemn a patch land on Benchmark Road, the attorney for the owner of the lot, known as “Lot 2,” writes: • There is no public purpose of the condemnation of the property.• The owners and tenants of the Avon Town Square, which is next to the parcel, have an interest in Lot 2 because they use it for parking.• Holy Cross Energy has two underground right-of-way easements to maintain electric lines.• The town lacks the legal authority to condemn the property in this case.• There is no need to acquire the property and the decision to do so by the town has been made in bad faith.• The town hasn’t negotiated in good faith for the acquisition of the property. It has based its offer on a flawed appraisal.==================================================Staff Writer Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or vwhitney@vaildaily.com. Vail, Colorado


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