When it came time for Dan Potter to make way for his upscale housing development, he fired up a chain saw and cut down the first trees, as several residents who had battled to stop him helplessly watched.
Two years ago, El Paso County commissioners agreed to allow Potter to extend Milam Road to the site of his 161-home Cathedral Pines subdivision near Black Forest Regional Park, northeast of Colorado Springs. In doing so, they enabled the county government to seize private property along the road, using eminent domain.
"It's a socialistic country now," says Mary Rodacy, who lost a chunk of her property to make way for the road. "Any corporation can come in, even the Chinese government, and take away your land. Nobody's safe."
Rodacy and her husband, Christopher, are among six homeowners who fought a losing legal battle to stop the road extension.
Potter says the road serves a public good because it assures the future growth of the county. He adds that the residents are complaining about something they cannot change.
But residents now are accusing the county's lawyers of attempting to rip them off.
"First they take our land," says Cindy Miller, a neighbor of Rodacy's. "Now they're nickel-and-dime-ing us."
Miller and her husband Ray, who were forced to sell more than a fifth of their five-acre property, initially were promised $111,800 for it.
So far, they have received just $83,850, and they say the county is trying to reduce the outstanding amount. County Attorney Bill Lewis maintains the $111,800 never was promised, but hinged on further negotiations.
Lewis says a Sept. 9, 2005 court ruling granted the county immediate possession of the properties and the right to negotiate payments.
"We're seeking to be fair to both sides," Lewis says.
The county has set aside $592,000 for the six properties, roughly $197,000 of which came from Potter's development company, King's Deer. Five of the homeowners are in active negotiations with the county.
Potter and Lewis note that King's Deer also has contributed tens of thousands of dollars toward the residents' legal fees associated with eminent domain proceedings, but Rodacy and Miller say it isn't fair to calculate those fees as contributions to their settlements. The homeowners themselves still owe more than $100,000 collectively in legal fees, they say.
The Rodacys are holding out, and not negotiating with the county. Mary Rodacy declines to reveal exactly how much the county offered for her land. But, she says, "it is less than half the value of the property."
The county is seeking to drop that property's eminent domain designation and declare it an easement instead which would leave it legally owned by the Rodacys.
An easement still would make way for the road, but would require the county to pay just a fraction of its initial offer, Rodacy says.
"If we ever see anything, it will probably be a couple thousand dollars," she says. And Rodacy and her husband would be taxed for the property.
Meanwhile, Miller fears the value of her $430,000 home is going to decline once cars begin roaring down the road to Potter's development.
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