BENTON – When the government has grand plans for a new highway or new electric/sewer/gas lines…or even the building of a library, ballpark or convention center…the power of eminent domain is often exercised to get the project going.
The taking…even with compensation…of land is often controversial.
Such is the case with the following example.
This case doesn’t involve a lot of land or a lot of money (less than half an acre and about $1,500).
But it does involve a lot of passion.
In fact, the landowners affected believe “There oughta be a law” so that what happened to them doesn’t happen again.
Seth Thomas of Benton points to where he thought he would one day live.
It’s an empty lot on land that has been in the Thomas family for generations.
It sits next to the home he grew up in and the home where his parents still live.
But now, Seth’s boyhood home and his dream of a future home have been intersected by an unwanted paved road.
The home-building business is bustling inside phases three and four of Westshores subdivision.
Along the north side of Hurricane Lake, the neighborhood has grown so large that a secondary entrance for emergency vehicles is necessary.
There is 35 acres for sale in between Salem Road and Westshores…but that option wasn’t taken (the purchase price of the land tops $800,000).
Developers also could have added indoor sprinkler systems to each home, which would have negated the need for a second access point (the estimated cost is about $1 per square foot…or $4,000 for a 4,000 square foot home)..
That option wasn’t taken either.
Instead, developers filed a lawsuit to take the Thomas’ property and connect to Alissa Lane.
“I hope this don’t happen to anybody else,” says Thomas. “This is an awful thing to happen. And it has caused a lot of hardships and its just…it’s a bad thing to happen.”
“Here’s where the problem lies right here is…it’s like Seth Thomas, a disabled veteran, he doesn’t have the money to fight an issue like this,” says Saline County Judge Lanny Fite. “He had to negotiate, you know?”
Fite says developer Ted Van Tassell and his partners were perfectly within their rights under current law to condemn Thomas’ land.
Property Owner Improvement Districts currently have that power.
That is why Fite believes the law needs to change.
“It’s egregious that a developer have the ability to condemn my property and put a road through it, you know?” says Fite.
State Representative Kim Hammer (R/Benton) has filed a bill that seeks to limit the power of eminent domain for Property Owner Improvement Districts.
Seth Thomas is one who hopes it will pass. It won’t help him, but he says it might help others.
“I think he (Rep. Hammer) is gonna do some good stuff where this won’t happen to anybody else,” hopes Thomas. “And that would make it, you know, bittersweet.”
We wanted to ask the developers why they chose the option of eminent domain when other options were available but on the advice of Benton attorney Perry Young they did not offer any comment about this matter…and neither did Young.
The access road running between the property of Seth and Mark Thomas will be gated and limited in use to emergency vehicles. At least that is the plan.
CREDIT: KATV, Jason Pederson