Iola commissioners will continue to look at their options, they said, in the wake of proposed land costs to extend the Prairie Spirit Trail.
Mayor Bill Maness told the Register, “It would be incorrect to consider this a dead issue.”
The city on March 1 dropped its pursuit of an eminent domain claim to acquire property along the old Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad corridor immediately north and south of U.S. 54 with the hopes of extending the trail from Cofachique to Riverside Parks.
The city had negotiated to buy the property from Iolan Jack McFadden before those talks stalled, prompting the city to exercise eminent domain to obtain the land. The claim was filed in Allen County District Court in October.
Judge Daniel Creitz appointed three local appraisers, John Brocker, David Ensminger and Kent Thompson, to determine the market value of the land, as well as the cost of removing equipment and debris owned by tenant Johnny Womack. Under the terms of eminent domain, the city would have been required to pay Womack to remove his equipment.
The appraisers were days away from filing those numbers — $138,000 for the land, plus another $110,000 to remove the equipment — with the court earlier this month when the city dropped its claim.
Had the city not filed for dismissal, it would have been obligated either to pay the appraised amounts to McFadden and Womack or abandon the claim subsequent to the appraisers’ report, at which point the city would have been required to pay McFadden’s and Womack’s legal fees. Dismissing the case when it did meant the city is not on the hook for any amount to McFadden or Womack.
“We are continuing to look at our options,” which include negotiations, Commissioner Craig Abbott told the Register.
McFadden declined to comment, as did Womack, who said only that the city’s pursuit of the land was damaging to his business.
The city is applying for a $400,000 grant from the Kansas Department of Transportation, which, if approved, would be matched by $100,000 from the city, to plan and design the trail’s extension from Cofachique Park to the north edge of Riverside Park at Bruner Street.
Even without the adjacent land, the city could extend the trail in town because of federal railbanking laws that allow the city to maintain the corridor as a multi-use path for walkers and bicyclists.
The city has about $100,000 in a special projects fund that would be dedicated to the trail’s extension, said Cory Schinstock, assistant city administrator.
BROCKER said he had been cornered twice by residents wondering “how in the world we came up with those figures.”
The land is appraised by the county at $1,980.
The appraisers looked at a number of factors to determine their totals, Brocker explained, including recent commercial land sales along U.S. 54 and size of the property.
“There were sales that easily corroborated the numbers we came up with,” Brocker said.
Among the properties the appraisers looked at was the site now occupied by The Family Physicians on the east side of town and land the county acquired in Gas, then later traded to Heartland Rural Electric Cooperative.
He declined to list other transactions because of privacy concerns for the owners.
Allen County Appraiser Sandy Drake told the Register that the county’s appraisal for the land had changed little over the past 20 years because no development had occurred after its value was set in 1987.
Drake said she would unlikely change her figures much without further action or development of the site. “That’s because I don’t have the same tools at my disposal that those appraisers do when they set the land’s value,” Drake said.
The appraisers’ value was not official because the city dismissed the case before it was filed.