MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

November 12, 2013

Street project land purchases nearly done

Five suits settled; final case in litigation

City officials are close to completing all but one of the rights of way acquisitions along South York Street, six of which ended up in court.

Five lawsuits were filed by the city after property owners affected by the street widening project balked at the city’s initial offers, the appraisers’ reports or both. All but one of the five lawsuits filed in 2011 have been settled, and negotiations are underway in a sixth lawsuit filed by property owners earlier this year.

“I would love to get all of these resolved,” Acting City Attorney Matthew Beese said about the lawsuits. “We have one that involves commercial property that raises some unique legal questions, but those that involved residential property have been resolved or should be soon.”

The South York Street widening project, which stretches from Hancock Street to Peak Boulevard, required acquisition of rights of way across 28 tracts of land. A 29th tract overlooked during the initial review of property was discovered earlier this year when a couple filed a lawsuit seeking compensation for the taking.

Paul and Patricia Adair allege they never were contacted before or after the city “began acquiring properties ... for the York Street widening project.” The Adairs allege the city “took physical possession of a portion” of their property when construction work began.

Interim City Manager Roy Tucker said the original map used by the city during the acquisition phase of the widening project shows the couple’s land lies behind other properties alongside the southeast Muskogee arterial street. A map obtained after the lawsuit was filed shows the Adairs’ property includes a small sliver of land that abuts York Street. That sixth lawsuit remains pending.

Beese said the lawsuit involving commercial property at the southwest corner of Hancock and York streets raises some unique legal questions. He described the lawsuit as “an interesting case that raises questions of fact about how a leasehold (leased property) should be valuated.”

The York Street project is one of three major street-improvement projects that have been started or are in the final planning and preparation stages. The other two projects include reconstruction of 24th Street between Okmulgee Avenue and Shawnee Bypass and improvements to Martin Luther King Street between 12th and 24th streets.

Public Works Director Mike Stewart said the South York Street project “is moving along pretty well.” Some of the more pressing problems have included issues involving rights of way and the relocation of utilities.

Stewart said those problems and wet weather have caused delays, but he anticipates the South York Street project will be completed by March. Weekly meetings with the contractor are taking place “to address issues as they arise.”

The South York Street widening project, once completed, will accommodate four lanes of through traffic with a fifth dedicated as a left-turn lane. The $6 million project and the two other major projects in the works are being funded by a quarter-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2009.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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