Landowner Along Bypass Settles for $1.56 Million

Less than a week after her case was first scheduled to go to
trial, local landowner Janet Roberts has reached a settlement with
the county agency building the Highway 25 bypass on the price of
nearly three acres for the project.
Hollister – Less than a week after her case was first scheduled to go to trial, local landowner Janet Roberts has reached a settlement with the county agency building the Highway 25 bypass on the price of nearly three acres for the project.

Roberts agreed to sell two parcels of land totaling around 2.76 acres between Highway 25 and San Felipe Road to the Council of San Benito County Governments for $1.56 million, according to court documents. That’s nearly $500,000 greater than the $1.08 million estimated by the county’s appraiser, but it’s also much less than the $2.25 million estimate prepared by Roberts’ appraiser.

“I believe we reached a fair agreement,” said County Supervisor Anthony Botelho, who sits on COG’s board of directors. “I’m happy that’s behind us.”

Roberts has declined to comment for previous articles and directed questions to her attorney, Dennis Kehoe. Kehoe did not return phone calls by press time Friday.

Kehoe previously said his client did not consider COG’s offers to be the “just compensation” she’s entitled to by law.

“It’s always a delicate balance for us in a government agency,” said Lisa Rheinheimer, COG’s executive director. “We want to compensate people fairly, but we have to make sure we’re not giving away taxpayer dollars.”

Rheinheimer said the final price broke down to $13 per square foot, well below Roberts’ initial offer of $30 per square foot.

COG’s most recent appraisal pegged the land’s value at $9 per square foot, while Roberts’ appraiser said it was worth around $19 per square foot, according to court documents.

There are still three landowners who haven’t settled with COG, Rheinheimer said. Deputy County Counsel Shirley Murphy has said none of the landowners have trials scheduled anytime soon.

Roberts’ case, on the other hand, was set for trial on Oct. 15. The trial date was rescheduled for Nov. 5 to allow more time for settlement negotiations.

Land acquisition has been a big issue with the bypass, to cost an estimated $45 million. Landowners who were dissatisfied with COG’s offers have been cited as one of the reasons for delays before the project broke ground in May.

Botelho said that after landowners complained about the first round of offers, COG hired a new appraiser and a new legal counsel.

“Our goal … was to treat everybody as fairly as we could,” he said.

Despite the unresolved litigation, COG took possession of the land through eminent domain in 2006, and construction has already begun around Roberts’ land.

In September, Transportation Planning Manager Mary Dinkuhn said COG had located $800,000 to pay for a potential shortfall in the bypass’ cost, including increased land acquisition expenses. The settlement should not affect the project’s budget, Rheinheimer said.

COG will also pay Roberts $5,000 for the cost of her appraisal.

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