Land condemned for bike trail

Published 12:30 pm Wednesday, July 27, 2016

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

The Edwards family of Carrollton was awarded $99,850 as part of Isle of Wight County’s use of eminent domain to obtain property along Nike Park Road for the bike and pedestrian path. 

A panel of five land commissioners met July 18-19 in Isle of Wight County Circuit Court to hear from the property owners and Isle of Wight County officials and witnesses before making the determination.

The portion consisted of 3,000 linear feet of land along Nike Park Road. The county offered to pay the family a total of $3,100 for the entire strip of road front, according the Edwardses attorney, Joseph T. Waldo. {mprestriction ids=””1,2,3,4,5,6″}

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The payout is to cover the cost of the land as well as damages, which considers how the property owners will be impacted by foot and bicycle traffic, said Isle of Wight County Assistant Administrator Don Robertson.

In all, there are four properties undergoing eminent domain proceedings — three owned by the Edwardses and another by a private company, Robertson said.

The $99,850 is for one of the Edwardses three parcels, Robertson said. 

When completed, easement, to include the bike path and drainage, will be 20 feet wide, Robertson said.

The Edwards family had fought against the county taking the property for the bike path because it takes 1.5 acres of a 60-acre farm that has been in the family since the 1940s, according a press release from the Edwardses’ attorney.

The farm is used to grow hay and timber.

“We would never sell this land because we are saving it for further generations,” said Dr. Garrett Edwards, a family spokesman. “We don’t want the money; we wanted the land to stay in the family.”

The Edwards family also plans to file an inverse condemnation suit to cover a parcel that the county failed to include, Waldo said.

The inverse condemnation is for a piece of property that includes a driveway that the bike trail would go over, Waldo said.

The suit is to make sure the Edwardses receive due compensation for all property impacted by the bike trail, he said.

At the same time, the Edwardses should not have to file an inverse condemnation, because it was up to Isle of Wight to do that, Waldo said.

After the Edwardses’ hearing, Isle of Wight County settled with the owners of Cypress Creek Farm LLC, which was also expected to go to court, Waldo said.

The county will pay Cypress Creek Farm $90,000 for nearly 5,000 linear feet, Waldo said.

Typically, localities try to settle eminent domain claims and not go to court, Waldo said.

In this case, Isle of Wight “fought very hard against them (the Edwardses), with two out-of-town attorneys, six witnesses and a host of experts, Waldo said.

The property owners refused to negotiate with the county for a reasonable settlement amount and that’s why it went to court, Robertson said.

To date, Isle of Wight has paid $80,000 in legal fees for assistance in all condemnation cases, including the Edwards family, Robertson said.

The panel of five land commissioners, chosen by each side, does not need to make a unanimous decision to finalize a case, Waldo said.

Four signed the verdict, while a fifth said the payout was too high, but did agree with the property owners, he said.

Waldo said the remaining hearings would be set for the fall.

The four-mile bike and pedestrian trail is expected to run from Nike Park to the intersection of South Church Street and Battery Park Road in Smithfield.

Another piece of the project — connecting the intersection of Battery Park Road and South Church Street to the Cypress Creek bridge and Windsor Castle Park — is still under discussion by the Smithfield Town Council.

Last fall, the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors approved a $1.7 million grant from VDOT for the project.

As part of the grant, the county must provide up to a $1.3 million match for the three-mile segment from South Church Street and Battery Park Road to Nike Park.

The total cost of the four-mile trail is estimated at $7.3 million, and with the acceptance of the grant and local match, all funding is in place for that segment, which includes a bridge across Jones Creek.

Funding is a combination of VDOT transportation grants and funding from Isle of Wight County and the town of Smithfield.


Smaller tract taken 

The Edwards family and Cypress Creek Farm LLC own the largest tracts of land that fall along the route of the bike and pedestrian trail on Nike Park Road.

There are a few smaller lots, including 3.6 acres owned by Harvey Saunders, who has lived there for the past 61 years.

Saunders said that when he and his wife were approached by Isle of Wight for eminent domain purposes, he became so distraught about the thought of the county taking his land that his wife pulled him out of the proceedings.

In the end, Saunders said they were paid a “pittance” for the 520 feet of his property along Nike Park Road. Saunders declined to disclose the final payment by Isle of Wight County.

This isn’t the first time Saunders had land taken for public purposes. When the current Fulgham Bridge was built to replace an older version, he gave up 10 feet of his property for the project.  

Saunders was dismayed to learn the bike trail would require another bridge that would also encroach on his land.

The proposed steel and timber bridge across Jones Creek is considered the most expensive part of the project, estimated at $4 million.  {/mprestriction}