News From Terre Haute, Indiana

July 17, 2013

Appraiser tells jurors $876K is ‘just’

The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — An appraiser from Ohio told Vigo County jurors in a civil trial Tuesday that $876,400 would be “just compensation” for 22 acres of property in the southwest quadrant of Interstate 70 and Indiana 46.

Tuesday was the second day of a civil trial over the fair market value of the property, which has gone through eminent domain proceedings and now belongs to the state.

The state of Indiana plans to use a portion of the property as an off-ramp for a reconfigured I-70 interchange that will connect to the Indiana 641 bypass.

The sole issue for the six-member jury in Superior Court Div. 2 is the amount the landowners are entitled to, or total just compensation, for the property. Property owners and the state could not reach an agreement in mediation, sending the issue to the court.

Property owners are Dr. Primo A. Andres, Sylvia Andres, Dr. Ramon R. Contreras and Dr. Zenaida M. Contreras. The property was purchased in 1995.

Attorneys for the property owners called two witnesses Tuesday, Eric Mallory with Eureka Ventures, a developer based in Carmel, and Debi Wilcox, an appraiser based in Columbus, Ohio, who does appraisals across the nation.

Wilcox told jurors the property in question would have been “a very good location for commercial development.” Her appraisal indicated just compensation for the property would be $876,400 for eminent domain purposes.

The highest and best use of the property would be for commercial purposes, “any big box” store such as a Home Depot, Costco or Meijer, she said.

Wilcox said she factored in three comparable property sales in the area to determine her appraisal, including the sale of property to Walmart on Indiana 46, which involved 20.8 acres sold for $1.9 million.

Howard Stevenson, the attorney representing the state, questioned Wilcox extensively in the afternoon. He pointed out the owners had the property for 16 years and no development occurred during that time.

The state called one witness in the afternoon, Steve Penturf of the Indiana Department of Transportation, who provided background on the 641 bypass project and the property in question.

The state contends that all of the commercial activity in the area has occurred in the northwest quadrant of I-70 and U.S. 40/Indiana 46. Also, the 22-acre site acquired by the state has a 4.5-acre pond and six acres of wooded area to the west that could not be used without improvements, the state contends.

Today, attorneys for the state are expected to call two witnesses from Terre Haute, Mike Ofsansky and John Newlin, who will provide testimony on their appraisals. Ofsansky’s appraisal is $145,000, while Newlin’s is $325,000.

Attorneys for the property owners contend the property was prime land for development, but that development did not occur once people became aware of the state’s intention to take the property for the 641 project.

The property owners contend the property is valued as of June at $1.2 million. However, property owner Sylvia A. Andres, a registered nurse and Realtor for the past 33 years, in testimony Monday, said it was her opinion the property value is $100,000 per acre.

At that price, the entire property would be worth $2.2 million.

The state is contending the land value is far less. Sylvia Andres testified Monday the state’s offer was $325,000 in mediation. At that point, the attorney for the state moved to have that comment stricken and Judge Phil Adler agreed, saying the trial was not about prior mediation.

Attorneys hope to provide closing arguments late today with the case then going to the jury, although proceedings may extend to Thursday.

The law firm of Coleman, Stevenson and Montel of Indianapolis is representing the state, while attorneys Tonny Storey and Phil Sever of Carmel are representing the property owners.