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Land needed for bridge work in court case

VDOT wants to use this piece of land when they start construction of the South Fork bridge project. The property, which is located on the southwest side of the bridge, is the focus of a lawsuit between the owner and the state as well as the county. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Alex Bridges

A dispute involving land in Front Royal owned by a local developer shouldn't delay the South Fork Bridge project, state officials say.

The Virginia Department of Transportation seeks to use two parcels, each less than an acre in size, for permanent and temporary easements related to the South Fork Bridge replacement project. VDOT plans to use land on the west side of North Shenandoah Avenue, adjacent to the bridge over the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, as an area to keep construction vehicles and to install utilities.

However, documents filed in Warren County Circuit Court show that a dispute exists over how much the state should pay the landowner, Llewellyn of Virginia LLC, to use the property during the construction.

Warren County also claims the owner owes real estate taxes on the property, further complicating the issue. County Attorney Blair D. Mitchell filed an answer and grounds for defense to the easement petition. Should the owner receive compensation from VDOT, the county would seek a portion of any award granted by a jury or the court for the taking of the property, Mitchell explained by email.

Mitchell's answer indicates that Llewellyn of Virginia owes $40,177.72 in real estate taxes, fees, penalties and interest to the county for the tax years of 2008 through the first half of 2013.

Judge Dennis L. Hupp held a brief hearing on the case in Warren County Circuit Court on Monday and set a trial date for March 2014.

VDOT scheduled construction on the bridge replacement project to begin this November. The $83.3-million project calls for the replacement of the existing bridge over the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and the Norfolk Southern Railroad. The plans also call for a reconfigured intersection of U.S. 340-522 and Va. 55. In addition to the bridge, the project reconstructs approximately 5,600 feet of road along the two highways.

The project extends approximately 1/10th of a mile south of the intersection of Shenandoah Avenue and 18th Street. Plans for the project filed with the petition show the need for the easements on the west side of Shenandoah Avenue would affect properties and businesses along the route.

However, VDOT does not consider the court action as a delay in the project's advertisement, J. Kirk Thomason, acquisition team leader for the agency, said by email.

Winchester attorney H. Edmunds Coleman III filed a petition May 30 in Warren County Circuit Court on behalf of the state's commissioner of highways. The petition asks that a judge or a jury determine the amount of compensation owed to the landowner, including the permanent and temporary easements as well as damages.

The petition describes the parcels needed for the easements as one containing 0.87 acre and another covering 1,630 square feet. Llewellyn of Virginia LLC, the development firm run by former county Supervisor Ron Llewellyn, owns the property in question. The petition also names City National Bank of West Virginia, Warren County and trustee Benjamin M. Butler as respondents in the claim.

Front Royal attorney Joseph Silek Jr. represents Llewellyn of Virginia. Silek said Wednesday he has until Aug. 9 to file a response to the petition.

VDOT claims it tried to make an offer to the landowner for the use of the property, claiming that VDOT has "made a bona fide, but ineffectual, effort to purchase said real estate from the Respondent Landowner thereof and has been unable to do so because of an inability to agree upon the purchase price with the Respondent Landowner." The petitioner has provided the landowner with a copy of the appraisal of the property and the title status.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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