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See some of Saul Fenchel's eminent domain articles covering various subjects in Eminent Domain Condemnation.

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The valuation of the damages – whether it’s a total or a partial taking – is made as of the date that the property “vested” in the government – i.e., the date the government legally acquired title to the property. It is not the date that the government announced the project, which is often years prior to the legal taking date.1

The general standard of just compensation for the taking of property (as well as determining the indirect damages -- see below) is the value of what the owner has “lost”. The standard is not how valuable the property may be to the government. The valuation itself is made at the “highest and best use” of the property. Even if property is being under-utilized, the claimant is entitled to the value as if it was being used to its full reasonable potential. The potential highest and best use cannot be speculative or hypothetical. It must be realistic based on the legal developmental restriction (e.g. zoning) and the character and history of development of the surrounding area.

Often, this can result in zoning or development issues. For example, undeveloped residentially zoned property in a valuable commercial zone may still be valued at its commercial value provided the claimant can show a high probability of re-zoning.2 The burden, however, is on the claimant to prove this probability and proof must be clear and convincing of the probability that such zoning change, variances or approvals would have been granted.

1This is an extremely important concept for the property owner to appreciate. Many people erroneously think that the property is taken when the government announces that it intends to take the property as part of some public project. However, the government’s announcement does not constitute a taking. At most, government announcements express an intention to move forward with a plan which may, at some future time, require the exercise of the power of eminent domain. There can be many years -- indeed in some cases ten or more years -- between the time that the government expresses its desire to take a piece of property and the point at which it has legally vested title. Sometimes this can cause what’s called “condemnation blight” and, in the most extreme circumstances, can result in a “de facto taking.”

2Absolute certainty is not the standard. As any person who has developed property can attest; there can be a long process between the point that the development plan is initiated and the point at which it is approved. The project as approved will often look quite different than the project as originally proposed. However, the courts apply a practical evidentiary standard here. Was there a high or reasonable probability that such proposed project or development would have been approved as of vesting date? To the extent that the court finds a greater probability; there is a greater enhancement to the value.

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