A 2017 land condemnation case, in which attorneys David Murray and Tommy Odom represented the landowner, illustrates the importance of not relying on an initial appraisal in a taking case. In this matter, NCDOT v. Warehouse Solutions of Charlotte, The Odom Firm was able to secure payment for the landowner that was over a million dollars more than was originally offered — almost double the deposit amount.
The Warehouse Solutions property is located near the North Davidson ("NoDa") neighborhood in Charlotte. The property contains a 94,000 square foot warehouse and an attached office building with parking and loading docks north and west of the building. The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) planned to construct a new grade separation bridge on Sugar Creek Road; the bridge was intended to go over the tracks for Charlotte's light rail extension.
The NCDOT filed a taking map for the intended .09 acre taking. This map indicated that the new right-of-way line ran immediately against the southwest corner of the Warehouse Solutions building. Attorney David Murray of The Odom Firm immediately noticed that the bridge, when completed, would be higher than the roof line of the building and within approximately 10 feet of the building.
Prior to the taking of the property, there were two tenants in the warehouse, one of which had been occupying about 75% of the available space. However, the taking eliminated driveway access to Sugar Creek Road, situated to the west of the building. As a result, the property owner and tenants no longer had access to the primary customer entrance, employee entrances, the loading dock for industrial deliveries and sixteen parking spaces. The only remaining accessible entrance and parking area were too small to accommodate deliveries and parking for customers and employees. It was clear that the warehouse was no longer able to function "at its highest and best use."
Attorney Murray noted that before the taking and at the time that the initial offer of compensation was made by the NCDOT, all parties involved believed that the taking would not affect the ability of the tenants to operate on the Warehouse Solutions property. Once the final construction plans were provided and after the condemnation lawsuit was filed, however, it became evident that the primary tenant using most of the warehouse space could not operate. The NCDOT relocated the tenant, and unfortunately for that tenant, no suitable space in Charlotte or Mecklenburg County was available.
Prior to the taking, the NCDOT obtained an appraisal of the property to be taken. It used this appraisal as the basis for its initial offer of $1,159,800. After filing the land condemnation lawsuit, a second appraiser hired by NCDOT met with the landowner and Attorney Murray. Roscoe Shiplett, an appraiser hired by The Odom Firm for Warehouse Solutions, estimated fair payment for the taking at $2,317,600, significantly more than the initial appraisal.
Several months elapsed, and the NCDOT failed to provide a report from the second appraiser to Warehouse Solutions or to The Odom Firm. Attorney Murray was forced to demand that the NCDOT attorney deliver the appraisal and, when that did not occur, subpoena the second appraiser in order to get a copy of the report. When the NCDOT finally turned over the second appraisal, it revealed that Warehouse Solutions' damages were estimated by the NCDOT at $2,252,700. This amount was so close to the amount in the appraisal from the landowner's appraiser that the parties were able to reach a settlement of $2,252,750 before mediation, contingent on payment within 30 days. Within 30 days, the NCDOT had made full payment to the landowner, an additional $1,092,900 over the initial offer.
Without representation, Warehouse Solutions might have accepted the NCDOT's first appraisal, and suffered unnecessary loss of over a million dollars. This case is an excellent example of the value of having representation in a North Carolina eminent domain land condemnation matter. When The Odom Firm handles condemnation matters on a contingency fee basis, we do not collect an attorney fee unless we are able to secure payment for a landowner that exceeds the initial deposit amount. There is no reason for a landowner to go against the government or any condemning authority without legal representation. The government has many lawyers at its disposal in land condemnation cases, who are paid with tax dollars and who typically know the law better than the average landowner. As the Warehouse Solutions case illustrates, landowners need to have attorneys of their own with years of eminent domain experience representing landowners, like the attorneys at The Odom Firm.