RTA Update 2017

In Southern Arizona, The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) is a major source of condemnation cases - cases in which government entities use the power of eminent domain to take private property needed for public-works projects. The RTA plan is a 20-year plan, approved by voters in 2006, that mandates improvements to many roadways in Tucson. 

The RTA had its 10-year anniversary last year, in 2016, marking the halfway point of the RTA plan. What can citizens expect from the next ten years? This map shows which projects remain to be completed:

As you can see, Broadway Boulevard, Silverbell Road, Valencia Road, 22nd Street, Grant Road, 1st Avenue, and Tangerine Road are still slated for major improvements. 

Many property owners who have asked me to represent them when their property has been taken through eminent domain express surprise at how quickly the process moves once the government decides their property is needed for a project. Property owners along these roadways should be prepared for the major disruption that can occur during an eminent domain taking. Having an experienced eminent domain lawyer can help to answer many of the questions that are sure to arise during the process.

March 2016 Updates - Broadway Boulevard 30% Design Complete

The City of Tucson, in partnership with the RTA, has completed the 30% design of the Broadway Boulevard widening project. There will be a meeting on Tuesday, March 29, 2016, from 5:30 - 7:00 p.m. at the Sabbar Shrine Temple at 450 S. Tucson Blvd. to discuss the design. 

For a preview, you can click on these links to see the 30% design alignment:

Refined Alignment Map 1
Refined Alignment Map 2
Refined Alignment Map 3
Refined Alignment Map 4
Refined Alignment Map 5
Refined Alignment Map 6 

Here is an example of Map 4, which shows the Broadway Boulevard widening plans from Campbell to just east of Plumer (click to enlarge):

Broadway Boulevard 30% Alignment

Sammartino Law Group Receives Clients' Choice Award for 2015

Avvo, an online legal services marketplace, has awarded Sammartino Law Group its 2015 Clients' Choice Award for my 2015 service to Real Estate and Land Use and Zoning clients. 

I am extremely grateful to have been able to meet the real estate legal needs of southern Arizona property owners, primarily through my focus on condemnation and eminent domain law. This year, I have helped clients who have had or will have their private property taken for the Grant Road Improvement Project,  the Downtown Links Project, the Los Reales Buffer Project, the Houghton Road: Broadway Blvd. to 22nd St. Project, and the Tangerine Road Corridor Project. In 2016, I hope to add the Broadway Boulevard Project to that list, among other projects.

It is important to me that this recognition from Avvo comes because of what I have done for my clients. I give thanks to those who hired or considered hiring me to help them, and I wish all past, present, and future clients good luck and good health in the new year. 

Fourth-Quarter 2015 Updates: Broadway Boulevard Widening Project and Relocation Benefits

Moving as a result of eminent domain?

Moving as a result of eminent domain?

As the Broadway Boulevard widening project gets underway, relocation agents working for the City of Tucson have begun to contact property owners along the path of the project. The Broadway widening has languished for many years but, in spite of that, once the relocation agents contact property owners, things start to move towards property acquisition fairly quickly. What should a property owner expect through the relocation process, and how can a property owner ensure he or she receives all of the money to which he or she is entitled through the eminent domain process?

When a government agency like the City of Tucson takes property through eminent domain and the property owner will no longer be able to live or do business at a taken property after the construction of the public improvement, the property owner is generally entitled to two pots of money from the government agency responsible for the taking:

Reach out your hand if your pots be empty / If your pots are full, may they be again.

Reach out your hand if your pots be empty / If your pots are full, may they be again.

Pot A is "Just Compensation" - the amount of money the Arizona Constitution guarantees a property owner in exchange for the real estate taken from him or her.

Pot B is "Relocation Benefits," which is an amount designed to pay for moving the personal property and reestablishing the business or residence of the property owner at a new property the property owner purchases with the funds from Pot A (or other funds the property owner wishes to spend).

If the City of Tucson is taking your property for the Broadway project or any other public improvement, you are certainly entitled to Pot A, and you may be entitled to Pot B funds as well. My practice has traditionally focused exclusively on extracting the most Pot A - Just Compensation funds I could for a property-owner client. Clients usually choose to hire me to seek the most Just Compensation possible and sort out Pot B - Relocation Benefits on their own.

Recently, a shift has occurred, and more clients are asking for help in securing their Relocation Benefits. The reason is those clients believe the relocation agents working for the City of Tucson are not doing a good job guiding the property-owner clients through the relocation process and, instead, seek only to maximize savings to the City of Tucson rather than fairly distributing the Relocation Benefits these clients deserve.

One example of this unfairness is the rules the City of Tucson and its relocation agents use to determine a property owner's eligibility for Relocation Benefits. There are three sources of a property owner's entitlement to Relocation Benefits: a federal source applicable to federal projects and state projects receiving federal funds, a state source applicable to Arizona Department of Transportation Projects, and a state source applicable to all other state- and local-level projects. This last source of Relocation Benefits requires the City of Tucson to establish its own rules governing the distribution of Relocation Benefits, but the City of Tucson has not done so. Instead, the relocation agents representing the City of Tucson use the oftentimes restrictive federal source and the guidelines pertaining to it. This confusion has resulted in clients reporting unfair and bizarre treatment from relocation agents who do not seem to have the appropriate guidance from the city. 

If you believe the City of Tucson or its hired relocation agents are not treating you fairly, call me for a free consultation. I would be more than happy to review the amounts to which you may be entitled and discuss a fair fee to seek the recovery of those amounts. 

Third-Quarter 2015 Updates: State of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA)

As many Tucsonans are aware, the Tucson voters passed the $2.1B Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) plan in May of 2006. Since then, the RTA has been working on delivering 35 roadway  corridor projects that impact Tucson and Pima County property owners. Of these 35 projects, most of them require the implementing agency to acquire private property through eminent domain. 

Here is a list of the 35 roadway corridor projects:

Source: Our Mobility, May 2015 http://www.rtamobility.com/documents/OurMobilityMay2015.pdf

Source: Our Mobility, May 2015 http://www.rtamobility.com/documents/OurMobilityMay2015.pdf

No matter how you quantify it, this is a large public works project, or series of projects. The RTA website does not supply easy-to-understand project status information, so I have distilled the information the site does provide to provide the same list of projects along with each project's (somewhat) current status:

Status of RTA Projects 2015.png

The RTA has completed 9 projects, is currently constructing 6, is designing 11, and is waiting to begin 9 future projects. The 20 projects in-design or for the future (and even some of the projects under construction, like Grant Road) will likely require more condemnation of private property, and those property owners may want to consult an eminent domain attorney to advise them of their rights. 


City of Tucson Moves Forward with Broadway Boulevard Widening

On October 9, 2014, the Tucson City Council voted 5-2 to approve the recommendation of the Broadway Citizens Task Force and move forward into the design phase of the project for a six lane roadway including two mixed-public-transit lanes. The design phase is planned to take place in 2015 with construction beginning in 2016. 

The current planned alignment, while not final, is available at this previous post

Broadway Boulevard Citizens Task Force Recommends Alignment

The Broadway Boulevard Citizens Task Force (CTF) has recommended an alignment for the widened Broadway Boulevard. The recommendation is to widen Broadway to six lanes with two of those lanes (one each direction) including a mix of public transit and private automobile traffic. This, in the parlance of the CTF, is the "6-Lane Including Transit" alignment.

The CTF's recommendation does not include a definitive statement regarding the final right-of-way width, although CTF documents generated contemporaneously with the recommendation suggest a preference for a final width of 118 feet, which could like something like this:

This is the report analyzing the seemingly preferred 118-foot width versus the seemingly less-prefered 96-foot width. You click the following to see the impact of the 118-foot width on properties along the east and west portions of the corridor.

The CTF will present its recommendation to the Tucson City Council on Thursday, October 9, 2014, time to be determined. The meeting will be open to the public.

Tucson City Counsel Keeping Broadway Acquisition Information From Public

There is an update to this post here.

The City of Tucson has already acquired numerous properties for the widening of Broadway Boulevard. In fact, "[t]he City currently owns 25% of the properties along the north side of Broadway." This is good practice; sometimes properties in the path of a road-widening project can be purchased for a fair price before the property is actually necessary for construction. In these advance-acquisition cases, property owners and the government condemnor deal amicably and avoid the conflict litigation offers.

The City of Tucson owns all of the property along Broadway Boulevard shown here in blue. 

The City will likely acquire even more properties through negotiated purchase before the construction begins on Broadway. However, the City Council has now decided to hide the price the City will pay for these properties. 

The City is exempt from providing the usual public information (called an affidavit of value) all property sales are normally required to include when recorded with the Pima County Recorder.  A.R.S. 11-1134(A)(3). As recently as 2005, however, the Tucson City Council included the purchase price at which the City would acquire Broadway Boulevard property in the resolution authorizing the acquisition. By 2009, the City had decided to obscure its activity in the marketplace by omitting the purchase price of property the City was to acquire at the northeast corner of Campbell and Broadway, instead authorizing the purchase of the property at "the market value of the property."

Compare the 2009 description (top) of the City's purchase with the 2005 description (bottom)

This is poor practice. First, the City is authorizing purchases of property without explicitly limiting the amount of money the department conducting the transaction may pay. Second, the City opens itself up to criticism by claiming its "policies prevent early acquisitions" or the City "has no money for advance acquisitions" when the City is clearly performing advance acquisitions and cannot even state publicly what it is spending on the advance acquisitions it has authorized. Finally, the other property owners on Broadway Boulevard deserve to know what the City is willing to pay for properties in the path of the project. 







Grant Road Property Residential Property Owners in Tucson Experiencing Effects of Condemnation Blight

I was saddened to read this story about two Grant Road homeowners, Javier and Rebecca Garcia, in the Tucson Weekly. Often, property owners in the path of future public works projects - like the Grant Road widening - experience condemnation blight.

  Will the sale of this property be used as comparable data to derive the fair market value of currently-operating businesses on Grant Road?

 Will the sale of this property be used as comparable data to derive the fair market value of currently-operating businesses on Grant Road?

Condemnation blight is the  phenomenon of property devaluation that occurs prior to the official taking of property because buyers in the real estate market are unwilling to pay fair market value for properties that will be taken for a public purpose 10 or 15 years in the future. When properties eventually are officially condemned, sometimes government agencies are tempted to use blighted sales - sales of property in the path of the project that are below market value because of the impending project. 

Broadway Boulevard owners can surely relate to the Garcias: the current Broadway Boulevard widening plan has been in place since 1986. One can see the effects of blight on Broadway on the north side of the street between Euclid and Campbell Avenue.

Residential property owners and commercial property owners both face difficult decisions when the greedy appetites of government planners cast a pall on properties far in advance of the actual acquisition date. Acquisition of the Garcia's property is "years in the future," according to the Weekly - maybe not until 2017 or beyond. Hopefully those affected by blight will have an advocate who understands blight and can use the legal tools available to obtain just compensation for Grant Road and Broadway Boulevard properties.