The Kansas Supreme Court has ordered the 30th Judicial District Court to redetermine the value of a parcel of land in Pratt County in a case that pitted the Kansas Department of Transportation against landowners Lawrence Preisser and Tracy Chambers.
The parcel in question is part of land taken by eminent domain for the expansion of U.S. 54 from a two-lane to a four-lane system.
The 2.7 acres of Tract 47 is co-owned by Lawrence Preisser and Tracy Chambers. It adjoins another piece of land, Tract 38, with 75.5 acres, owned solely by Preisser, which is part of the legal battle to determine the value of Tract 47.
Together the two tracts are referred to as the Short 80 (acres).
When Tract 38 went through condemnation process, the court awarded $96,000 in compensation and neither Preisser nor the Kansas Department of Transportation appealed the amount.
But when Tract 47 went through the process and was valued at $120,000, KDOT appealed the amount and asked the local court for a ruling striking any claim for damages based on assemblage theory. KDOT also sought to strike any of the landowners' claim to compensation for loss of access to U.S. 54.
The 30th Judicial District Court ruled on three issues in the matter:
First Matter: Determining the value of a piece of land (Tract 47) by its juxtaposition to another piece of land (Tract 38) — assemblage doctrine.
The assemblage doctrine applies when the "best and highest use of a parcel of land" involves its use with an adjacent property similar to Tract 38 and Tract 47.
The use of the land can be utilized to fix the value of the property. Assemblage doctrine allows the landowner to present evidence that the market value of his property is enhanced because of the adjacent property.
Also, in eminent domain, the landowner cannot seek damages claiming the value of his land was diminished if there is not a unity of ownership. Tract 38 and Tract 47 did not have the same ownership so the district court ruled they could not present evidence.
Plus the owner of the adjacent property, Tract 38, had already been compensated.
Second Matter: Should a landowner be compensated for a change in traffic patterns? Tract 47 had direct access to 130th Avenue but not to U.S. 54. As a result of the highway expansion 130th Avenue no longer had direct access to U.S. 54 and Tract 47 landowners argued they should be compensated for loss of access. The distance to the nearest point of access to U.S. 54 increased from 0.2 miles to 6.8 miles in one direction and 3.8 miles in another direction.
Third Matter: Does a court in an eminent domain action have subject matter jurisdiction over a claim that the government's (KDOT) exercise of its police power to regulate traffic was unreasonable? The landowners argued they should be compensated for their loss in market value because KDOTs exercise of police power in eminent domain was unreasonable.
Page 2 of 2 - The Kansas Supreme Court denied part of the district court's findings and affirmed other parts.
In the first matter the district court ruled the landowners could not present evidence under assemblage doctrine because the two properties didn't have the same ownership during eminent domain and the adjacent property, Tract 38, had already received an individual compensation.
The Kansas Supreme Court reversed the district court decision, saying ownership of a piece of property is not the sole purpose for establishing the highest and best use of property required for the assemblage doctrine.
That part of the case has been sent back to the district court so the landowner can present assemblage doctrine evidence to a jury. The final value of the land will have to wait until the evidence has been presented and a new ruling handed down.
The Supreme Court agreed with the district court ruling on the second matter that no change had occurred to Tract 47's access to the abutting roadway, 130th Avenue, and should not be compensated.
In the third matter the Supreme Court ruled that neither the Supreme Court nor the district court had subject matter jurisdiction in this eminent domain action. Therefore KDOTs use of police power was reasonable and no compensation would be given.