Arizona Daily Star Interviews Carl Sammartino Regarding Eminent Domain Success for Property Owners

The Arizona Daily Star interviewed me recently regarding my successful representation of multiple property owners whose property the City of Tucson condemned using eminent domain for the Downtown Links project:

‘Whenever there is a large dispute, or a large number of disputes ... it indicates that there was some major disagreement between the government agency and the private property owner regarding the value of the property taken,’ said Carl Sammartino, an attorney who represented several of the affected owners.

Though they were on opposite sides of those disputes, Rossi and Sammartino agreed on the principal cause for the disagreements: The boom in downtown development, which led many owners to believe that their properties were worth more than the city was offering. A quick review of the offer and ultimate settlement figures shows that owners ended up with about 60 percent more than what was originally on the table, according to court documents.
— Woodhouse, Murphy. (2017, September 18). Road Runner: Decades in the making, downtown bypass in sight. Arizona Daily Star, pp. A2, A5.

Please refer to my page of reviews on AVVO to see how my clients felt about the results I obtained for them as their eminent domain lawyer. You can also find the original Arizona Daily Star article here on the Star's website or permanently cached here

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

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.

Grant Road Widening Construction Sequence and Project Segments Map

The Regional Transportation Authority's website for the Grant Road Improvement Plan - www.grantroad.info - contains a wealth of information on the project but is not well organized. It is difficult to find the official map of the construction sequencing, so I have reproduced it here:

Grant Road Improvement Project Construction Sequence - The project is currently in Segment Two

The City is moving into Project Segment Two, which runs from North Castro Avenue to North Fremont Avenue. Acquisitions will begin soon, and the RTA will likely provide property owners with offers to sell properties along the project for less than their true market value. An experienced eminent domain lawyer can help property owners get the proper value for their condemned property along Grant Road. 

The Dream of a Downtown-Tucson-East-West-Urban Freeway

Any Tucson resident (part-time or full-time) of any age can greatly appreciate this excellent photo album from the Arizona Daily Star of downtown Tucson "before redevelopment." These photos from the 1960s and beyond capture the historic beauty of downtown Tucson.

One photograph shows how difficult roadway planning can be. The photograph below shows a 1965 model for urban renewal including a hypothetical east-west urban freeway connecting the east side of downtown directly to the interstate; next to the historic photograph is an aerial photo of the same area in 2013 with the area of the proposed 1965 freeway overlaid with green. 

1965 Tucson Downtown Urban Renewal Model

Downtown Tucson Aerial 2013

This urban freeway was obviously never built. The Downtown Links project, linking the Barraza-Aviation Parkway to Interstate 10, is the modern incarnation of this project. Our east-west downtown connector, instead of aligning with Cushing Street, will instead look like this:

Tucson RTA Downtown Links Corridor 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.