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Easement acquisition not the proper approach

December 8, 2012
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The city of Cape Coral has begun the process of acquiring property that will be needed to accommodate infrastructure for the utility expansion project pending in the neighborhoods dubbed Southwest 6 & 7.

The city is looking to acquire 18 sites for lift stations plus additional locations for pump stations.

The city has been mostly successful. Staffers have obtained, through negotiation or the use of existing rights of way, 14 properties where lift stations need to be constructed.

Still, negotiations with four property owners have thus far been unsuccessful as have talks with two others who own parcels where the city needs to construct pump stations.

City Council is expected to consider Monday six "resolutions of necessity" that would allow the city to take the land needed via eminent domain. That's a procedure that allows governments to acquire properties for public use by compensating an unwilling seller a fair price determined by the courts.

It's a more cumbersome - and expensive - process.

Fact Box

The canal pump station properties are:

Lots 4 and 5, Block 1913, Unit 28, 714 S.W. 15th St., Appraised value $9,500. Lots 6 and 7, Block 1913, Unit 28, 710 S.W. 15th St., Appraised value $9,500.

The lift station properties are:

937 S.W. 6th Court, appraised value $1,261.

833 S.W. 20th St., Appraised value $1,261.

1423 S.W. 20th St., Appraised value $1,261.

1602 S.W. 18th Lane, Appraised value $1,332.

We understand the city's need to proceed. We even understand that some property owners may feel they can get a better deal by holding out although in this market, a ready buyer with either cash in hand or the offer of a comparable site - especially one outside the assessment area where property owners of even vacant lots can expect a hit of up to $20,000 for their share of the expansion project costs-sounds like a pretty good deal to us.

But the city has thrown a nuance into the mix that has us hesitant. Council also has been asked to consider the option of "taking" just a portion of some sites, a 30-foot by 30-foot chunk as an easement for construction of its utility stations. This would mean the city would only have to "condemn" a portion of the sites, paying only for what it actually needs from recalcitrant owners, thus saving money.

And maybe providing a little extra incentive to trade or sell.

Ahem.

Now, the city has acquired some utility rights of way in this fashion in the past.

But officials candidly admit they prefer not to "take" just a corner of a site, that it's much better to acquire the entire lot, and then sell what's not needed if it can to a willing buyer who doesn't mind an above-ground utility station in the back yard.

We agree that is best.

And we fear that while easement-only condemnation meets the letter of the law, from a compensation standpoint, it may be difficult to defend because a residential building lot with a station and 900-square-foot easement out back might be a tad hard to sell. As Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz bluntly pointed out Monday, such a plan could be construed as turning "the property into junk." If the courts agree, the owner would still be entitled to fair compensation for the "taking."

This is not a road the city should go down. Council should proceed with its acquisition of the sites needed, but should try again to find resolution to the partial-purchase/easement proposal.

It's simply not the best way to re-launch the next phase of this always controversial project.

- Breeze editorial

 
 

 

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