SLO considers using eminent domain on Los Osos Valley Road property

acornejo@thetribunenews.comJuly 15, 2013 

Traffic moves on Los Osos Valley Road between Calle Joaquin and the Highway 101 overpass.

DAVID MIDDLECAMP — dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The San Luis Obispo City Council will decide Tuesday night whether eminent domain will be used to gain access to a privately owned property for construction work tied to the Los Osos Valley Road interchange project.

The city says it needs a temporary construction easement to do work on a creekside retaining wall to support the southbound off-ramp. The city also plans to make improvements to the driveways accessing the AMPM gas station and convenience store, located at 12424 Los Osos Valley Road.

An agreement has yet to be reached between the business owner and the city.

A four-fifths vote is needed by the City Council to approve the use of eminent domain.

City Attorney Christine Dietrick said that because of grant funding tied to the project, the construction easement needs to be in place to maintain the project’s current timeline and ensure funding is not lost.

This is not the first time that the city has used eminent domain to take property needed for public improvements. The city used it to take a nearby portion of land to realign Calle Joaquin in 2004, which resulted in a court battle that lasted more than five years.

“The city exercises the power of eminent domain very infrequently,” Dietrick said. “We are always inclined to try and reach a reasonable negotiation with the property owner.”

Initiating an eminent domain proceeding does not preclude an agreement from being reached between the property owner and the city, she said.

However, future AMPM property co-owner Bruce Shayahan says the construction will hurt the business financially. Shayahan is buying the gas station from former owner BP West Coast LLC as part of a consortium of five families.

“We are willing to cooperate with the city, but they are going to have to meet us halfway so that we can survive,” said Shayahan, who expects escrow to close later this month.

“People use AMPM just for the low price,” Shayahan said. “There is not a customer loyalty like other businesses. Customers will not tolerate the obstruction to our business. They will go elsewhere.”

Dietrick said that the construction work will not require AMPM to close and that driveway improvements will be staggered to make sure that customers can access the business.

The city is willing to pay $15,500 to compensate Shayahan, according to a city staff report.

The interchange project, in planning stages since 2001, will widen Los Osos Valley Road to four lanes between the Calle Joaquin intersection and South Higuera Street.

A new two-lane bridge will be built south of the existing overcrossing. Westbound traffic will travel on the existing bridge, and eastbound traffic will be routed on the new bridge.

Other improvements such as widened sidewalks and bike lanes will also be included. The interchange project is expected to accommodate increased traffic for up to 20 years.

The council will also decide Tuesday in closed session how much the city will pay for portions of another nearby property needed for the project.

Two parcels on either side of Los Osos Valley Road east of Highway 101, currently used for farming, will be discussed. A farm stand currently operates on one of the properties.

The city needs a portion of those properties along the existing roadside to build the new bridge, said transportation planner Peggy Mandeville.

In 2004, the city used eminent domain to take a 9,600-square-foot chunk of undeveloped land behind the parking lot of the Rose Garden Inn to realign Calle Joaquin.

It led to a court battle that resulted in a jury awarding the owners of the Rose Garden Inn $228,000 — rather than the $1.26 million they had sought for the land and for financial damage they say befell the business because Calle Joaquin was realigned behind the hotel, instead of in front of it.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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