Hays on Thursday may start the ball rolling on condemnation against a handful of landowners holding out right-of-way and easement deals for the city’s $9.3 million Vine Street roundabouts project.
The city for several months has been negotiating for slivers of land in the path of the planned roundabouts.
The city expects to solicit a construction bid on the project this spring, with work starting in phases shortly afterward and continuing into 2021, said Hays city manager Toby Dougherty.
“We’re at a point in the North Vine project, where we still have a few property owners that either are not happy with the offers we have given them, or they’ve just completely not responded to our offer, meaning we’ve extended offers, we’ve sent them reminder letters, and haven’t heard anything back from them,” Dougherty said Tuesday during an interview about the process. “We’ve reached the point now where the land acquisition stuff needs to conclude.”
The properties are located along Vine Street/US-183 highway, and along the 37th and Skyline area where it will connect to 41st Street.
Dougherty will ask the Hays city commissioners on Thursday to approve a resolution that alerts the public and property owners to the city’s intent to use condemnation. He will make the request during the commission’s regular meeting at City Hall, 1507 Main.
Roundabout design is 90% complete, Dougherty said, with land acquisition the last step. The design calls for two roundabouts straddling either side of Interstate 70; a third farther south at the entrance to the former Ambassador Hotel redevelopment; and a fourth shaped like an hourglass at 32nd and 33rd streets.
In all, the city is having to acquire 19 parcels of private land, requiring some for right-of-way and some for either temporary construction easements or permanent easements. While deals have been reached on most of the properties, which are nearly all developed commercial properties but at least one agricultural, a few remain to be settled, Dougherty said.
“We do have a couple of counteroffers that we think are exorbitant,” Dougherty said. “And then we have a couple of property owners who are just completely not responsive.”
The owners acknowledged the offer, but haven’t indicated it’s an offer they’ll entertain, or never came back with a counteroffer, he said.
“We can’t negotiate with ourselves,” Dougherty said. “If you’re not happy with an offer, put an offer back on the table. Otherwise, at some point, we have to take a nonresponse as a ‘no’ and move forward.”
The landowners and the properties remain confidential, as the law allows since negotiations are still ongoing. They will be made public as condemnation moves forward.
None of the 19 properties are residential and none involve any structures or facilities, Dougherty said. The land being acquired ranges from as little as 100 square feet to more than an acre, with purchases ranging from a couple hundred dollars to many tens of thousands of dollars where new streets are being created, he said. Most of the parcels are extremely small, with only two large tracts.
The roundabout project is funded with $6.05 million from the Federal Highway Administration and involves a federal highway, US-183 highway, which is managed by the Kansas Department of Transportation. For that reason, the city must follow federal requirements for land acquisition. The requirements govern the hiring of appraisers and lay out the process for extending offers and counteroffers.
The commissioners will decide and vote on the resolution Thursday.
If the resolution is passed, city staff on Nov. 21 will present the commission with an ordinance listing the specific properties the city must acquire. The commission will be asked to adopt that ordinance at its Nov. 26 meeting.
Throughout that process, the city and property owners can continue to negotiate and try to reach a deal, Dougherty said.
“Condemnation is the absolute last resort,” he said. “Condemnation is the absolute hardest decision for any governing body member to make, it’s the hardest decision for any staffer to recommend. One would like to think there’s always a deal that can be reached ... but sometimes that’s not the case.”
The city commission in September authorized more than $390,000 to buy the easements and rights-of-way.
With an easement, the property owner retains ownership but the city has permanent access, for example, to work on buried waterline or other infrastructure, or else it has temporary access for construction purposes. Right-of-way is property the city buys and permanently owns, where there might be sidewalks, curb and gutter, utilities and the city doesn’t need permission if construction is needed.
“Our engineers did their absolute best to design the north Vine corridor improvements to fit within the existing right-of-way, but there are some areas where that wasn’t the case,” Dougherty said. “In some cases it’s permanent, in some cases, there’s going to be road or right-of-way, in some cases it’s just a temporary deal.”
Some landowners like to go through condemnation to ensure they get the best deal, he said. Condemnation takes the matter out of the city’s hands and places it in District Court. The court appoints appraisers, and the city pays what the land is valued at. The property owner can take the money or continue to fight via the courts.
“I’ve been here since 2005 and it’s rare that we’ve had to consider condemnation. We’ve only utilized the process a couple times, and only one time did we actually have to follow through on the condemnation process,” Dougherty said. ”It was for a road project, it was for 22nd Street. And again that wasn’t something that was taken lightly. It was taken very seriously and it was the last resort.”