Property Acquisition Process
There are times when Clackamas County must acquire right of way over private properties to improve existing roads or construct new roadway facilities. A right of way is an easement which grants the County access to a portion of private property for public use. It is the County’s policy and practice to obtain right of way with fairness and equity.
The County is empowered to acquire private property for public use. With this authority goes the obligation to protect the rights of individual property owners. The County thus has a dual responsibility – recognition and protection of the individuals who are directly affected by acquisition of land, and competent and efficient service to the public as a whole.
The Right of Way Agent who calls on the property owner has studied the County’s valuation of the needed property and can illustrate with maps and other data how the acquisition will affect the property. The County’s offer will be confirmed in writing together with an acquisition summary statement, and appraisal or other valuation report, which provides the basis for that amount.
The Agent is a Notary Public and is authorized to obtain an easement for right of way or a deed to purchase the property, subject to the acceptance by the County Road Official.
The Agent is not permitted, under County, state and federal procedures governing acquisitions, to engage in “horse trading”; rather the Agent is confined to the monetary values indicated by the appraisal process. However, the County will review and may reconsider its position in light of new evidence of value presented by the property owner, including a documented professional appraisal.
The property owner is not required to accept the County’s offer or to enter into an agreement which the owner believes is unfair. Owners have a minimum of 40 days to accept or reject the County’s offer, unless an emergency has been declared. A refusal may simply be a case of disagreement between the two parties as to the value of the property.
If the parties are unable to agree on the compensation to be paid or if title cannot be cleared, a condemnation action will be filed by the County. Once this action is filed, a trial date will be determined. However, an owner can elect binding arbitration prior to trial through the Court for amounts of $20,000 or less, and non-binding arbitration for amounts between $20,000 and $50,000. Arbitration is not available for amounts greater than $50,000.
Discussions and mediation to try to resolve differences can, of course, continue even after a condemnation action is filed. The filing allows the County to proceed with the construction project.