Topeka The state's highest court ruled Friday in favor of a land owner who lost what he considered a 31.5-acre piece of paradise in Wyandotte County to the Kansas Speedway.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ordered a new trial for Robert Creason in his dispute with the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., which condemned his property in 1998. Creason was told his property was worth $370,000, but he thought its value was $640,000.
His property had a grove of trees, a spring-fed lake and a huge shop where he could restore old cars and trucks. He even had his own natural gas well to power his home and shop.
Local officials took it to make way for the speedway, the $250 million NASCAR track with seating for 75,000 spectators. Creason moved to Overland Park, then re-established his homestead and shop on 80 acres south of Lansing.
Creason has received the Unified Government's $370,000. The Supreme Court's decision creates the possibility that it will have to pay him more money.
"The Supreme Court perceived and followed the law as we asked it to," said Creason's attorney, John Tillotson, of Leavenworth. "We're very pleased."
The Unified Government bought 180 properties to get the 1,000 acres for the speedway and associated business development and estimated that about 80 percent of the owners agreed on a price after negotiations.
Creason wasn't one of them. The Unified Government went to court to get his property condemned, meaning three county residents would look at the property and assign the value he was to be paid.
The natural gas well was a key issue when Creason objected to the value placed on his property and forced the case into district court.
The well had been on his property for 18 years, and he was preparing to start selling gas commercially. The well is now plugged.
During the trial of Creason's lawsuit last year, District Judge Philip Sieve instructed jurors to ignore testimony from a University of Kansas petroleum engineer. The engineer testified about the value of the gas well.
The judge concluded that Creason was attempting to assign separate values to parts of his property and that the property had to be valued as a single unit under Kansas law.
The Supreme Court said the property did have to be assigned a single, overall value but said Creason should be allowed to present evidence about how he reached his number for a fair market value.
The justices said Sieve's instructions were incorrect because jurors could have settled on a different figure for the value of his property if they had considered the petroleum engineer's testimony.
"There is an important distinction between the measure of value and the evidence admissible to prove it," Justice Tyler Lockett wrote in the court's opinion.
Timothy Orrick, a Lenexa attorney who argued the Unified Government's case before the Supreme Court, was not available for comment Friday.