Mooresville has agreed to condemn two private parcels along Langtree Road to allow major road improvements near the new Interstate 77 Exit 32.
But the landowners said Friday that the town never notified them of its intentions and that they're receiving significantly less money than their properties are worth.
“We feel like we were totally duped,” said Kelley Dittrich, owner of Village Real Estate Group, which represents landowner Scott Hemming of ASH-BN Properties of Mooresville, one of the property owners. Dittrich and the owner of the other parcel said they were unaware of the decision to condemn the land until contacted by an Observer reporter last week.
Town Attorney Steve Gambill said N.C. law doesn't require a town to make a formal offer for a property before proceeding with a condemnation. But before a condemnation action is filed in court, he said, a town must notify the landowner by registered mail 30 days before the filing.
Lowe's Companies Inc. needs easements to build a road of up to six lanes from Langtree to its national headquarters, which could eventually employ 12,000 white-collar workers. Lowe's will pay for the new road and related Langtree improvements, Mooresville Planning Director Tim Brown said.
Mooresville agreed last week to condemn the land so that it can obtain permanent easements on the south Iredell properties after Lowe's tried unsuccessfully to buy easements on the properties.
Two-lane Langtree will eventually be widened as part of a longer-range, east-west connector to N.C. 3 and N.C. 150 East, so the town stepping in to condemn the parcels is in the public's good, Brown said. The connector will give motorists an east-west option through town other than traffic-clogged Exit 36.
Lowe's made “a good faith effort” to acquire the two Langtree parcels before requesting the town's involvement, according to a written reimbursement agreement between Lowe's and the town. The agreement, which commissioners approved last week, says Lowe's will reimburse the town up to about $345,000 in property-acquisition and other condemnation costs.
Commissioners agreed last week to begin condemnation proceedings against ASH-BN Properties on about a tenth of an acre at 267 Langtree Road, which the town says is worth $40,000, and against Lake Lifestyles LLC on an even smaller parcel at 264 Langtree Road, which the town considers worth $12,000, according to an agenda of last week's town board meeting.
Iredell County appraises the value of Lake Lifestyles' overall 1.4-acre parcel at $383,820, county records show. The county appraises the value of ASH-BN Properties' total eight-tenths of an acre at $375,960, records show.
Jeff Martin, of Lake Lifestyles, said Lowe's representatives “tried to strong-arm me out of my property.” He said the company was willing to give him $13,000 for the easement, even though he spent $235,000 for the whole parcel. He said the portion of his parcel that's being condemned is the most valuable part of the property because it fronts Langtree Road
Lowe's spokeswoman Chris Ahearn said the company offered the property owners more than the appraised value of the portions needed for the easements. “We did make a good-faith effort to negotiate with the landowners,” she said.
Martin and Dittrich said they'd gotten the town to change the properties to a more commercial “village center” zoning designation just two months ago. Dittrich said the town never told them that they'd soon have to give up portions of their land as easements for the Lowe's road.
Lowe's says in the agreement that it paid for appraisals from an independent third-party appraiser to establish fair market value of the property easements.
Town commissioner Frank Rader said the landowners are always welcome to sue in court over the amount they're receiving for the easements.
The town, meanwhile, is merely acquiring easements and not sharing in the costs of road construction within the easements, the agreement says.
When Lowe's receives the necessary road construction permits, the town will convey the easements to the N.C. Department of Transportation for use as a public right-of-way, the agreement says
“Lowe's shall be solely responsible for all easements or encroachment agreements from N.C. DOT for the construction of the road improvements,” the agreement says.
The new road and the Langtree improvements are expected to be finished about the same time that Exit 32 opens, Mayor Bill Thunberg said.
The $21.4 million Exit 32 is scheduled to open next summer. It will be the first new exit in the Lake Norman area since Huntersville's Exit 25 opened in 1992. The new exit was part of the incentives promised when Lowe's decided to build its corporate campus nearby.
The exit has already spurred growth on the Langtree Road peninsula, including local developer Rick Howard's planned $800 million Langtree at the Lake mixed-use project.
Staff writer Kevin Cary contributed