Johnson Drive right-of-way acquisition hits bumps, upsets some owners

Johnson Drive gets a complete rebuild between Lamar and Nall next year.

Right-of-way acquisition for the Johnson Drive rehabilitation project between Lamar and Nall has not gone smooth, according to reports this week.
The street will be rebuilt from building front to building front, maintaining four lanes of traffic and head-in parking. It turns out that the public easements going down the street are not uniform. City staff have described them as a “mess” and a “jigsaw puzzle” that needs to be cleaned up before the project can begin.

The city has acquired its easements and right-of-way necessary from 21 of 34 property owners by paying for them after an appraisal. But city councilor Amy Miller told other councilors she has heard some property owners along the street are “upset about the different amounts” offered in the appraisals. One property owner also complained about the offer in a published letter this week.

The city needs the easements and right-of-way for the traffic lanes, parking, utilities and sidewalks. The project kicks off this year with utility work and is in full swing for the rebuild in 2014. Updates on the project can be found here.

To acquire the easements, the city is having two professional appraisals done and is paying the owner the higher of the two amounts. Because federal funds are involved in the project, federal guidelines for appraisals apply, said Justin Pregont, the city’s project manager in public works. However, the square footage appraisals can be different for each parcel, Pregont said. For the property owners, the easement or right-of-way could mean that they would not be able to restrict parking in front of their buildings to just their customers.

Because of the vast variation in how much street footage some owners control and how deep the property extends from the building, the individual appraisal amounts are widely different, ranging from a couple hundred dollars to thousands. The city has passed measures to allow it to use eminent domain to finish getting easements, if necessary.