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Trial Begins for Land Affected by Franklin Turnpike Project

August 23, 2010
By Tara Bozick

The state is arguing with local landowners over whether the Franklin Turnpike extension project is benefiting or damaging commercially zoned property in Danville.

On Monday, a five-member jury convened in Danville Circuit Court with the task of valuing property taken by the state and assessing how the remaining property was affected.

Attorneys Martha Medley and Jim Daniel for the Commonwealth Transportation Commissioner say they will show land owned by H & B Investment Properties LLC is worth more because of the connector project — more than $1 million.

Attorneys Charles Lollar and Stephen Clarke for H & B Investment Properties say they will show the project as designed is cutting off access to the commercially zoned property and the new access planned by theVirginia Department of Transportation isn’t reasonable, making the property lose its commercial value — a loss of $565,000.

“It is the battle of the experts — the valuation not only of the take, but of the damages,” Lollar said in an opening statement in Danville Circuit Court on Monday.

On July 24, 2008, the state took 4.4 acres of about 40 acres of land owned by H & B Investment Properties to construct a connection between the intersection of North Main Street/Franklin Turnpike and the Danville Expressway, testified James Parrish, VDOT eminent domain coordinator.

H & B Investment Properties, with Steve Richardson of Danville as managing partner, had 11 acres zoned transitional residential and about 30 acres zoned commercial.

Before the project, Richardson had access to his land from two points — from a 50-foot right-of-way off of American Legion Boulevard and also further down off of Walton Avenue, also called Spring Lake Road (or an extension of American Legion).

Now, the Franklin Turnpike Extension is cutting right through Walton Avenue, cutting off access to the commercial property. The 50-foot right-of-way still provides access to the transitional residential property.

To regain access, VDOT planned an S-shaped road from the extension back to Walton Avenue on the eastern side. The S-road is a gravel, 18-foot wide road, which is comparable to the 12-foot wide gravel Walton Avenue, testified Scott Pittman, VDOT western region design-build team leader.

Additionally, the extension is designated as a limited access corridor, Pittman said.

Attorneys for the state questioned if the land owned by H & B Investment would be developable regardless.

City engineer Kent Shelton, who deals with street design and construction, testified that the 50-foot right-of-way would have to be 60 feet to allow for commercial access.

Shelton, responding to Lollar’s questions, said that a retention pond would have to be modified for an intersection to be built and that the S-road as a gravel road would not be acceptable for commercial access.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board passed a resolution a month ago to allow four-way access at the point of the S-road. The intersection isn’t being constructed.

Pittman said that the intersection is “constructable,” but there wouldn’t be anything to serve at this point.VDOT would work with developers when and if development plans came along.

The trial continues at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Danville Circuit Court with Judge Joseph Milam Jr. presiding. The jury will hear from property appraisers for each side.