PROVO After five years and three court rulings, Provo and landowners struck a less-than-satisfying agreement last week under which the city will pay more than $1 million for a two-acre parcel connecting Canyon Road to University Avenue.
Attorneys brokered the deal four days before the start of a trial that would determine fair market value for the land, which was taken by eminent domain to make way for the new street. The landowners, including the family of Newell Johnson and a partnership called Spring Canyon Limited, hired an appraiser that valued the land at about $1.4 million, while an appraiser for Utah County priced the land at around $900,000. Attorneys attributed the staggering difference in appraisals to a disagreement over the amount of damage done to the remaining property.
Rather than risk losing at trial, both sides decided to "split the baby" at $1.16 million, said Dayle Jeffs, attorney for the landowners. Even though his clients landed a $1.16 million paycheck, Jeffs said they aren't doing cartwheels because they didn't want to sell the land from the get go.
"In this kind of thing, neither side is completely happy," he said.
Mayor Lewis Billings agreed but called the deal "reasonable settlement."
"My feeling is it is unfortunate it had to go right up to moments before the trial before people were willing to settle this," he said.
Provo started construction on the new road which starts as 4525 North at the top of the bench and winds down to 4800 North in 2002 before it completed negotiations for the last section of land belonging to Johnson, who died in March 2006, and Spring Canyon Limited. The city offered $287,000 for the two acres, but the landowners said the land was worth $550,000.
The city tried to take the land by eminent domain, Jeffs said, but a court ruling rebuffed its efforts because the land isn't in Provo; it's on unincorporated Utah County land in the middle of the city.
Provo then struck a deal with Utah County in which the county would take the land by eminent domain, and Provo would front the bill for all expenses, including construction and attorney fees, Jeffs said. The parties went back to court, and a 4th District judge deemed the city-county bargain legal because the road construction fit into the county's master plan, Jeffs said. A Utah Supreme Court decision in May 2006 upheld that ruling.
The trial that was slated to begin Monday would have only determined fair market value for the land. Before the trial got under way, Jeffs spoke with Jody Burnett, attorney for the county, and they decided to forgo the trial and reach a settlement.
"I think it's just prudent for parties to manage their own destiny and avoid the unnecessary expense of a trial," Burnett said.
Burnett said it's usually the mark of a good deal when neither party is completely satisfied."I think most good settlements are that way," he said.