Land owner wins $75K over RFTA bus stop
The owner of Alpine Tire Co. in Glenwood Springs has been awarded $75,000 in his claim against the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority over property damage he says occurred when RFTA built its 27th Street Bus Rapid Transit station next to his business three years ago.
However, attorneys for RFTA will be asking the intergovernmental, tax-funded agency’s governing board next week to consider an appeal on several matters that could alter the outcome.
Michael Sos claimed in the lawsuit filed in Garfield District Court in August 2013 that a large retaining wall built between the bus station and his business rendered a portion of his property unusable without significant and expensive modifications of his own.
The wall was built on RFTA’s property to support the parking area and bus station. The wall sits about 3 feet off Sos’ property line, but relies on his property for support, according to the claim.
That increases the likelihood of drainage issues and debris coming onto his property, Sos alleged, preventing him from using it for extra tire storage as he had intended without taking extra measures to build a retaining structure of his own.
A three-person condemnation commission, which is similar to a jury, sided with Sos after hearing multiple days of evidence last week, granting him the $75,000 he said it will take to do the extra work.
District Judge John Neiley already ruled in the case last September that Sos would be entitled to attorney fees and other costs, to be determined at a later hearing. RFTA is also on the hook for $4,500 to pay the commissioners who were appointed to hear the case.
“We are pleased with the award, which is exactly what we have sought for a long period of time,” said Glenwood Springs attorney Steve Worrell, who represented Sos.
“The three commissioners listened to the evidence for three straight days and came back with exactly what we requested,” he said of the April 27 determination.
Paul Taddune, lead attorney for RFTA, said the board will be advised of the ruling when it meets May 12 in Glenwood Springs.
“We do feel, and the other side knows where we stand, that there are a number of appellate issues that probably should be decided at that level,” Taddune told the Post Independent.
RFTA’s legal team would like several questions addressed by an appellate panel, he said.
Those include questions related to RFTA’s condemnation powers, whether the damages that were awarded constituted a “takings,” given evidence that there was not actual diminution of value, and whether the amount of the award was fair given the evidence, Taddune said.
Technically an “inverse condemnation” claim, the case hinged on whether the construction that occurred on RFTA’s property caused the Sos property to be decreased in value.
Sos “alleges that the wall imposes a significant burden on his property, and that portions of his property were rendered unusable as a direct result of the design and construction of the wall,” District Judge Denise Lynch noted in her January 2013 ruling denying RFTA’s motion to dismiss the case.
Lynch sided with the plaintiff in that ruling, saying that evidence “may show that the construction of RFTA’s wall has resulted in a taking.”
Several engineers were also called on to provide expert witness opinions in the case about the impact of the retaining wall and the likely expense Sos would incur to rectify the resulting problems on his property.
“Clearly, the construction of the elevated RFTA wall and the increased adjacent grades that accompanied it have resulted in a substantial increase in the horizontal pressures for which a new Alpine Tire retaining wall must be designed,” Robert Pattillo, an engineer for the plaintiff, wrote to the court.
RFTA’s engineers said that could hypothetically be the case. However, the extra load, and thus the cost to do the work, would be somewhat less than the $75,000 estimated by Sos’ experts, according to court documents.
“All the experts agree that some lateral or subjacent force loading is imposed on the Sos property as a result of the construction of the wall,” Neiley wrote in a July 2015 denial of RFTA’s motion for a summary judgment in the case.
The only disagreement was in the amount of the loading and the resulting impact on the Sos property, he concluded, leaving it up to a jury to determine the award amount.
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