By Joel Grossbarth
The Village of Haverstraw has been involved in a contentious litigation with a property owner since 2005. Now, that litigation has come to an end with the village being ordered to pay almost $8 million for taking the landowner’s property through eminent domain. An appeals court in Brooklyn ordered the village to pay AAA Electricians, Inc. a total of $7,690,582.91 for condemning its property in connections with a revitalization project undertaken by the village.
When a municipality exercises its powers under eminent domain, the law requires that it pay a property owner a fair, just and reasonable recovery based upon the highest and best use of that property. Initially, the village determined the value of the property to be $2.5 million. The property owner refused the offer, claiming the property was worth substantially more. After a trial that included testimony from planners, engineers, appraisers and others, the Rockland County Supreme Court awarded $6.5 million. However, under the Eminent Domain Law, a property owner may apply for additional damages if the award is substantially in excess of the government’s offer and when the award is necessary for the property owner to achieve just and adequate compensation.
The Appellate Division in Brooklyn sustained the Rockland Supreme Court’s ruling and also allowed an additional allowance of $1,190,582.91 in costs borne by the property owner in seeking just compensation. The additional award covers the fees AAA Electrician, Inc. incurred for lawyers, appraisers ad engineers. The court held that the award was proper given “the village’s undervaluation of the property and the effort required to establish the inadequacy of its offer.”
The village is also involved in several other eminent domain cases working their way through the court system. Perhaps the latest decisions will force the village to re-examine its policy of offering fair and just damages to property owners when taking private property under eminent domain powers.