Owners of land along the South Lawrence Trafficway route met with and hired a Topeka attorney Thursday to help negotiate with the city of Lawrence and Douglas County.
A group of about 40 property owners held an hour-long question-and-answer session with attorney John Hamilton to learn about their rights should the county try to designate portions of their land as greenspace or buffer zones along the 14.1-mile trafficway route.
The property owners voiced a collective concern that they be paid for land used as "setbacks" as opposed to seeing the land condemned by the local governmental bodies.
The city and county have not agreed how much land will be needed as right of way and setbacks along the route, or how the land will be acquired. Preliminary planning reports are calling for a 250-foot right of way for the trafficway with 150-foot setbacks on both sides of the right of way, for a total of 550 feet.
HAMILTON told the gathering he thought the 150-foot proposal was too large.
"I think the restrictions on the use of this 150 feet is unreasonable, and I think it constitutes a taking in other words, you should be paid," he said.
Hamilton calculated that the 150-foot setbacks on both sides of the trafficway would consume an acre of land every 145 feet, a total of more than 510 acres for the entire route.
He said he had reviewed land use documents for the trafficway, and his interpretation was that the city and county wanted to take the land without paying for it.
THE CITY and county will meet in a study session at 4 p.m. Monday in the county courthouse to discuss the setback issue. The meeting is open to the public, but it is not a public hearing.
The setbacks would be used as greenspace and buffer zones along the route, and property owners would not be able to construct anything in the setback area. Existing structures in the setback area would not be affected.
He told the landowners to beware if a plat, zoning request or building permit is not approved by the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission, the city or county, without inclusion of a 150-foot setback stipulation.
"As soon as a plat is denied, if that's what happens . . . I think a cause of action is ripe at that time," Hamilton said.
But any action will have to wait until a change in zoning occurs, he cautioned.
County Administrator Chris McKenzie, who did not attend the meeting, said today that there "may be a difference of opinion as to the definition of what constitutes a taking" of land. He declined further comment until after Monday's meeting.