Landowner: City should negotiate Columbia Regional Airport eminent-domain petition

Friday, May 30, 2014 | 4:16 p.m. CDT; updated 11:08 p.m. CDT, Saturday, May 31, 2014
Robert White's family has owned the land near Columbia Regional Airport since the 1930s, but Columbia recently filed an eminent-domain petition to acquire the land for a runway expansion project. He is uninterested in selling the land, however.

COLUMBIA — Robert White has seen his family’s farmland shrink as Columbia Regional Airport export has expanded.

White’s father reluctantly sold part of his property to the city of Columbia when the airport was built in the 1960s. Now, White will have to sell 5.4 acres of his 55-acre plot because the city filed an eminent-domain petition May 15. The land is slated for a runway expansion project.

An eminent-domain petition allows cities or states to take private property for public use as long as the owner is compensated for that property.

“I personally would prefer not to do that, but that’s something we need to expand the airport to accommodate the needs of folk in the area that are using the airport,” Airport Advisory Board Chairman Greg Cecil said.

The city needs a total of 58 acres to lengthen the airport's main runway, create a clear zone for incoming and departing aircraft and realign Rangeline Road and Route H.

James Phillips, the owner of the other 52 acres, already reached an agreement in principle with the city, said Steven Sapp, the Columbia Public Works Department's public information specialist.

“My understanding is that the Phillips family has the contract at this point, and we’re awaiting signature from them,” Sapp said.

White received an offer of $8,000 per acre from the city March 25, but he thinks his parcel, which has been in his family since the 1930s, is worth much more. He would like to get at least $50,000 per acre, he said, because land on the other side of the airport at Ashland Industrial Park sold for $75,000.

He said he based the estimate on information from his real estate agent at Century 21.

“Being so close to the airport makes the property more commercial than farmland,” White said. “They’re using the land for commercial purposes, so I expect a commercial price, too.”

But White’s projections might not be accurate, said Carl Freiling, an Ashland-area   real estate agent with more than three decades of experience.

White’s land is zoned as agricultural residential, not industrial, according to the Boone County Resource Management website. Intended use does not override zoning, Freiling said.

“They only should be paying agricultural value," Freiling said. “And based on what I have seen in past years, if they were offering $8,000, they weren’t being mean about it.”

The offer of $8,000 is based on an appraisal by the city, Assistant City Counselor Cavanaugh Noce said.

White said he isn’t happy about the price but is also concerned about the process. The city approached him with only one offer, he said.

"That’s not negotiating as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

But Tom Schneider, White’s lawyer, said he’s less concerned about the procedures or the time frame because the city will take the land no matter what. The important issue now is to maximize the amount White gets paid for it, he said.

“The process is what it is,” Schneider said. “Whether it takes six weeks or six months, what we want is the opportunity to have an appraisal of our own, which we’re going to do."

White is working with an appraiser to determine the value of the land. He said land near his property should be considered commercial because of its proximity to other industrial areas.

On June 2, a judge will appoint a three-person commission to assess the land and determine its value. The commission is usually made up of two real estate agents and one developer or banker, Schneider said.

The commission will meet with the two parties at White’s property, where both parties will be able to provide information on price expectations. Noce said although commissioners have to be disinterested, both parties have input on the composition of the board.

The commission will tell the court how much it believes the city should pay. If White disagrees, he could take the matter to jury trial, Schneider said.

Freiling said he doesn’t want to speculate on the price the commission will decide, but he doesn’t expect it be much different from what the city offered.

“I’ve sat on those boards before," Freiling said. "It is a data-driven process and not designed to accommodate personal opinions."

Schneider said White could get more money because his property qualifies as heritage land. Under a 2006 law, people who own land that has been in their family for more than 50 years are eligible to receive 50 percent more of the sale value of the land.

Noce said he needs to check whether White’s land is eligible.

The Federal Aviation Administration is requiring the city to extend the runway to increase safety, airport manager Don Elliott said. But Cecil said it is also desirable so the city can receive larger planes in the future.

The idea is to extend the north end of the main runway 900 feet by 2018. The main runway is currently 6,500 feet long. At a Feb. 3 meeting, the city set aside $639,000 to buy the land necessary for the expansion.

There would be no pavement on the 58 acres the city wants to acquire because it already owns enough land to extend the runway, Elliott said.

The the city is buying White’s and Phillip’s land to leave a clear zone for planes approaching and departing the airport. The additional land would also safeguard against planes accidentally leaving the runway during takeoff.

“If there was a equipment shed or barn, that would create a potential a safety hazard for inbound and outbound aircraft,” Elliott said.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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