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Henrico loses eminent domain dispute with property owner

Henrico loses eminent domain dispute with property owner

Eminent domain case ends in $236,750 verdict

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A Henrico County property owner has won an eminent domain court battle against the county over land taken for construction of the county’s North Gayton Road extension.

A Henrico Circuit Court jury awarded Emily Sterling $236,750 in the case, agreeing with her claim that the county’s offer of $126,000 for the property at the northwest corner of the intersection of North Gayton Road and West Broad Street in western Henrico was inadequate.

The five-person jury’s verdict, on Wednesday at the end of a two-day trial, was unanimous. In eminent domain cases, only a majority is required, said Sterling’s attorney, Joshua T. Baker of the Norfolk-based law firm Waldo & Lyle PC.

Sterling is chief executive officer of Richmond-based Sterling Management Corp. and its sister company, Sterling Development Corp. She said her business, founded by her father, is a small-scale development and property management operation.

The property taken by the county is less than a fifth of an acre — part of a half-acre plot acquired by Sterling’s father in 1997. The property’s value had increased as Short Pump development reached farther west. Other businesses at the intersection are Strange’s Florist and Gateway Bank.

Sterling maintained that the price offered by the county was too low and that after the county took the slice of land for the road project, the remaining property was too small to develop. The jury agreed.

Joseph T. “Tom” Tokarz II, a county attorney, said Henrico has not decided whether to appeal.

Baker said Sterling offered the full half acre to Henrico for $253,000, but the county refused the offer. “We tried to mediate the case,” he said. “She would have taken less than the amount the jury came back with.”

“The county would have had the full half acre,” he said, “and the county attorneys and staff … could have spent their time on important county business.”

Sterling said she was pleased that the jury “agreed that we were deserving of more.

“I’m glad it’s over,” she said. “I look forward to better days.”

The county has at least one more eminent domain case scheduled to go to court early next year stemming from the North Gayton extension project.

Tokarz said the Sterling case did not slow the project. The North Gayton extension opened Oct. 6, 94 days after its targeted completion date.

Although the price for the Sterling property was in dispute, Tokarz explained, the county was able to go ahead with the highway construction as soon as its “certificate of take” case was filed in March 2010.

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