Shirley property owners were awarded $3,000 by a Van Buren County Circuit Court jury in an eminent domain case heard last week by Judge Michael Maggio.
Darrell Bradford and ex-wife Joann Isom were seeking $20,000 for land seized by Community Water System of Heber Springs. Eminent domain is the power to take private property for public use. Community Water offered the landowners $1,100.
In testimony Thursday, Danny Roberson said when he surveyed the property for Community Water last year he measured 30 feet from the side of Mountain Park Road. The first 15 feet are the county’s right-of-way, the second 15 feet was for Community Water to lay pipeline.
Lawyers for Bradford and Isom argued that Mountain Park Road, which runs in front of Bradford’s home, is a public road, but not a county road, and as such the county should not have a right-of-way. The lawyers argued that the landowners lost twice as much property as they should have, 0.67 acres instead of 0.33, and were left with an essentially useless strip of land.
“Condemnation cases are special,” Jerry Patterson, Isom’s attorney, said in closing arguments. “The government has the power to take from you what is yours.”
Property, he continued, is a person’s “highest right.”
“They can take our land, but they must pay a just price,” Patterson said.
In closing arguments from Bradford’s attorney Ralph Blagg, the lawyer said that his client’s property had been severed. He said earlier testimony showed that the land value was more than Community Water offered. Shirley resident and Circuit Clerk Ester Bass testified that he paid $7,000 for a quarter-acre lot about a mile away.
Lawrence Dupree, an appraiser hired by Community Water, testified earlier that just compensation for the land taken by the water system was $1,100. In closing, Blagg said the “comparable land” appraised by Dupree was 10 to 13 miles away.
“They almost insult us coming here saying all he (Bradford) should get is $1,100,” said Blagg.
Community Water attorney Bruce Tidwell of Friday Eldredge & Clark law firm of Little Rock said in his closing arguments that the jurors should use their experience to decide compensation.
“Community Water is trying to improve the water system for many,” he said. He contended that the county judge could make Mountain Park Road a county road at any time and that had to be taken into account when surveying the property.
The property owners are “asking you to find that 0.67 acres is worth $20,000 or $30.000. … Are you going to pay $30,000 for an acre?” he asked.
Tidwell asked the jury to find that there was no severance or damage to the property and award the land owners $1,100.
The jury deliberated for about 45 minutes before returning a verdict that found the landowners should receive $1,500 fair market value for the property and $1,500 in damages for a total of $3,000.