In late July, the Town of Hillsborough filed an action in the Orange County Superior Court to formally begin the process of acquiring the historic Colonial Inn by eminent domain. The building dates back to 1838, and has been in disuse for the past 13 years. Southern Neighbor editor-in-chief Claire Nielsen sat down with Hillsborough Planning Director and Assistant Town Manager Margaret Hauth to find out more about the eminent domain process.
?Southern Neighbor: When did the town first decide to try to acquire the inn?
Margaret Hauth: The Town Board first authorized staff to begin the process in October 2015, but the final decision to move forward with the eminent domain process was not made until June 2016.
SN: Why does Hillsborough want to acquire the property?
MH: To preserve a historic landmark for future generations.
SN: Are there already plans for what to do with it once it’s taken over?
MH: There are no set, specific plans. The town needs to know more about the condition of the building, and it would be premature for the town to spend too much money on design, etc., until we know more about the condition of the building and have some degree of certainty that we will actually acquire title to the property.
SN: Could you explain a little about the process of acquiring the property, from a legal/policy standpoint?
MH: The owner of the property has until around Thanksgiving time to respond to the town’s complaint. They may contest the action, they may dispute the town’s legal authority to use eminent domain to acquire the property, they may dispute the amount the town claims is the fair market value of the property and therefore the amount of just compensation the owner is entitled by law to receive. As required by law, the town has deposited with the Court $250,000 — the amount which our appraisers believe to be the fair market value of the property. The town has never attempted to “take” the property without paying the owner for it. Ultimately, if the town and the owners can’t reach an agreement, the Court will decide whether the town may acquire the property via eminent domain, and if so, the amount of just compensation the town must pay the owner for the property.
SN: Does the town have a good chance of getting the property, in your opinion?
MH: Yes, we think that at the end of the process, the town will be able to acquire the property, either through a negotiated settlement or the completion of the legal process.
SN: How often does a case like this come up in Hillsborough (where the town acquires a property)?
MH: Over the years, the town has acquired numerous properties through negotiated purchase and sale agreements. Examples include the West Fork of the Eno reservoir through eminent domain and Riverwalk through negotiated sales. However, the town’s use of the power of eminent domain is rare and typically is a tool of last resort. So it is not unusual at all for the town to acquire property, but using eminent domain to do so is unusual.