City asks judge to dismiss homeowner’s lawsuit related to 23rd Street construction project

photo by: Rochelle Valverde

A property, pictured April 23, 2019, at the corner of 23rd and Vermont streets is the subject of an eminent domain dispute with the city.

The City of Lawrence is asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit related to the ongoing project to widen a portion of 23rd Street, in which a homeowner is disputing the city’s determination of a property line and payment for an easement.

In its motion, the city states that the 3-foot-wide strip of disputed land is incorporated into the plans for the 23rd Street construction project and that the city has deposited money with the court equal to the just compensation for the easement, as determined by court-appointed appraisers, and therefore now owns the land. The city goes on to state that the land in question, located near 23rd and Vermont streets, has been continuously utilized and occupied by the city for public purposes for a period of more than 15 years and therefore any real property interest the homeowner may have had has passed to the city by adverse possession.

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Disputes with the homeowner regarding the property line and fair compensation for an easement could not be resolved after months of correspondence, and the city began eminent domain proceedings in Douglas County District Court in February against the homeowner to acquire a utility and pedestrian easement as well as a temporary construction easement to complete the project.

The homeowner, Emma Barland, then filed the lawsuit against the city asking for work to be halted on the disputed land. In the lawsuit, Barland asks the court to declare that she owns the disputed land and to issue a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction preserving the status quo, and a permanent injunction prohibiting the city from completing any work on the land.

In its motion for dismissal, the city also claims that the homeowner will not suffer irreparable future injury if an injunction is not issued and that the homeowner fails to establish that the injunction would not be adverse to the public interest. The city also claims the homeowner fails to establish that any action by the city constitutes fraud, bad faith or an abuse of its reasonable discretion to determine what property is necessary for municipal purposes.

As part of the eminent domain case, Judge Paula Martin previously ruled that the city’s taking of the easement is necessary and lawful and ordered three disinterested parties to appraise the value of the property that the city seeks to take through eminent domain and determine just compensation. The court-appointed appraisers filed their report April 12 stating that just compensation for the utility and pedestrian easement is $7,800. Due to the disputed property line and compensation for lost mature trees and shrubbery, the homeowner had previously asked the city for $30,000.

In addition to the widening of the roadway, the 23rd Street project calls for the replacement of waterlines and the installation of 7-foot-wide sidewalks along the roadway.

The 23rd Street project required easements from 12 properties totaling about 7,500 square feet, and the disputed land is the only unresolved easement, according to a city memo previously provided to the Lawrence City Commission. The eminent domain case and the lawsuit are both pending in Douglas County District Court.

Maureen Brady, a marketing specialist for the city, said that the western portion of the 23rd Street project, from Ridge Court to Louisiana Street, began on Oct. 15 of last year, and the work east of Louisiana Street began on Nov. 11. She said that the project is expected to be completed in July of this year, and she declined to comment on whether the lawsuit had delayed or could delay the project.


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