West Ada

Eagle Urban Renewal Agency settles with property owner

The Eagle Urban Renewal Agency initiated eminent domain action to seize the site of a long-vacant gas station at the southwest corner of Eagle Road and State Street because it was a “blight.”

An urban renewal agency appraisal valued the property at $360,000, which is what the agency offered property owners Rick and Sandy Smith. The agency refused the Smiths counteroffer of $725,000 and initiated eminent domain proceedings in March to seize the property for a parking lot.

On July 9, the Smiths filed a lawsuit against the urban renewal agency and the city alleging the “beautification plan” the city adopted as part of the condemnation process does not comply with the city’s comprehensive plan, the Eagle Urban Renewal Agency’s urban renewal plan or state law.

According to a July 15 settlement, the Eagle Urban Renewal Agency will stop the condemnation action and pay the Smiths $33,750 if they demolish and remove the existing building and asphalt by Sept. 12. The agency will pay the Smiths an additional $33,750 upon start of new construction or the closing on the sale of the property.

The settlement came just a day before a court hearing on the agency’s request to take possession of the property.

“Although we were confident of winning our case in a court of law, we chose mediation,” the Smiths said in a statement. “So as we close yet another eminent domain controversy in Eagle, we are left wondering why it had to happen at all?”

“We made a final last-ditch effort to reach an agreement with the Smiths where they could keep and develop the property and the agency’s primary concern about eliminating blight would be addressed,” the urban renewal agency’s attorney, Heather Cunningham, told the renewal board last week.

The agency agreed to pay the Smiths $67,500 to reimburse them for demolition and “to give the Smiths something as an incentive to move forward with the development,” Cunningham said. “I think this settlement agreement is a win-win for both sides.”

The Smiths, or a new owner, have until Dec. 31, 2016, to start construction. If construction is not under way by then, the agency could pursue another condemnation action.

The Smiths agreed to dismiss the lawsuit they filed against the urban renewal agency and the city. The Smiths also agreed to keep the property “free of blight and in a clear and clean condition,” according to court documents. Failure to do so could result in a $250 penalty.

“I am thrilled to have come to an agreement with the Smiths on the old Chevron property,” Eagle Urban Renewal Agency board member and City Councilwoman Mary McFarland said in a statement. “It’s an absolute win for the entire community.”

“We are sure this will be a case study to possibly eliminate (urban renewal agencies) in the state of Idaho and will certainly be a factor in their future regulation by the Legislature,” the Smith statement said.