THE ANSWER IS YES! Highway widening can be both concerning and confusing for landowners along the construction corridor. There are several important procedural steps involved in the State's acquiring a portion of your property. This process can be very confusing and counter intuitive, but understanding it is key to receiving value for your property and maintaining "peace of mind" through the process. The first contact will likely be by the State's "Right-Of-Way Agent" informing you of the need for the State to acquire your land. The Agent is tasked with appraising your property. Based on the information gathered, a written appraisal will be prepared on the fair market value of your property. It is important that you be respectful and allow them to do their work.
This time is when you should consider contacting an attorney who is knowledgeable about the condemnation process. Important opportunities to establish the value of your property are happening now. If you are able to agree on a value for the taking, the Right of Way Agent can get you to the closing table to transfer the needed property to the State. Understand, however, they represent the State and not you as the property owner. While others can give you guidance, only an attorney can represent your legal interests here.
If you are unable to agree on a satisfactory value or process, then the State can take the needed property through Eminent Domain. Eminent Domain is the process by which the State acquires your land for the widening of roads without your consent. It is important to understand that you have rights during this process. While the State is allowed to "take" certain pieces of property necessary for the public purpose, you as a citizen cannot be deprived of that property without "just compensation", which is defined as the difference in the "fair market value" of the property being taken immediately before and immediately after the taking. Your "damages" are the difference. Determining that value is "your day in court".
You may be asking yourself, "Can I not just stop this process from happening?" The answer to that question is usually "NO". While in very rare cases you can fight it, most times the State can satisfy the legal standard which is basically the requirement of a public use ... for which roads usually qualify.
There are law firms in our area who assist landowners with this process, The McIntosh Law Firm included. Your home, or land, is likely one of your largest investments. Your emotional attachment to your property is understandable. An attorney can help you get the true value of the property versus the State's assessed value. The attorney fees incurred should be far exceeded by the additional return value on your property. You will also have peace of mind in having someone on your side, representing your interests.
Author: Lawrence J. Shaheen, Jr., Attorney At Law