The Missouri Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of Missouri’s Heritage Value Statute that awards certain property owners a 50% increase over the fair market value of their property when taken by eminent domain. The case arose from a trial at the St. Louis County Courthouse in December 2011 that resulted in a judgment awarding a family $2.1 million as damages for the taking of their property through eminent domain. The St. Louis County family had owned their 15 acres of land on the eastern edge of Chesterfield since it was purchased by the family patriarch, Arthur Novel, in 1904. The property served as the family home and farm until Mr. Novel passed away in the late 1960′s. The property, which was located off of Creve Coeur Mill road, has been held by the family since that time. St. Louis County acquired the property through condemnation in 2010 to construct the portion of the Highway 141 extension known as the “Page-Olive Connector.” The remaining portion of the project to the south was constructed by MoDOT. The County appealed the decision to the Supreme Court claiming the trial court committed errors in ruling on evidence and that the Heritage Value Statute violated various provisions of the Missouri Constitution. The Supreme Court rejected the County’s appeal. The decision by the Supreme Court was unanimous, though Judge Wilson did not participate since he was not yet on the Court when the appeal was argued in November 2012.
After the County made an initial offer of just over $238,000 for the property, negotiations with the owners failed. After the County initiated condemnation proceedings, it took possession of the property in March 2010 to start the construction of the project. A jury trial was held on the week of December 12, 2011. At the trial, the County presented a range of evidence that the property was worth from $208,000 to $238,000. The County claimed the property’s value was low because most of it was located in flood plain. The property also had wetlands and access issues to contend with. The property owners asked the jury to value the property at $1.3 million based on the history of development in the area that overcame similar flood plain issues. The jury, on December 15, 2011, returned its verdict that the value of the property was $1.3 million.
Robert Denlow, the attorney for the property owners, stated, “This is an important day for property owners in the State of Missouri. In 2006, the Missouri Legislature reacted against the infamous Kelodecision by protecting owners that have held on to their property for at least 50 years. The Supreme Court today backed the Legislature’s protection to property owners.” After the trial, Denlow stated, “The jury saw through the issues to award what was fair in this case. It was one of the more difficult condemnation trials, because we had to educate the jury to almost make them experts in flood plain issues and to explain the process of taking raw land and turning it into developable property. The family who owned the property never intended to sell it and simply wanted to hold it as a tribute to their grandfather. They understood that progress required that the County needed their property, and they never fought that. They merely wanted a fair price. Thankfully, the jury did its part to ensure that the Novel family will receive just compensation as required by the Constitution.”
After trial, the property owners motioned the trial judge to award them “heritage value” for their property. Heritage Value was established by the Missouri Legislature in 2006. It awards an additional 50% in condemnation cases when the property has been owned by the same family for over 50 years. In this case, the amount of heritage value amounted to $650,000. The owners also asked the court to award them interest of over $150,000 due to the reason that their property was physically taken in March of 2010, and the trial was not held until December of 2011. The court granted the owners’ request, and entered judgment for the jury verdict of $1.3 million and added the $650,000 heritage value and the $150,000 in interest, for a verdict of $2.1 million.