“Nearest feasible route” requires reasonable consideration of costs to both landowners

by Gary Taylor

Green v. Wilderness Ridge, L.L.C.
(Iowa Supreme Court, January 8, 2010)

The Iowa Supreme vacated an earlier Court of Appeals decision concerning the ability of the owner of a landlocked parcel to access that parcel over the land of another, using the “nearest feasible route to an existing public road.”  Readers can go to The BLUZ blog post on the Court of Appeals decision, which can be accessed here, for a review of the facts.   

Iowa Code 6A.4(2) gives the owner of a landlocked parcel the right to exercise eminent domain over the land of a neighbor if it is necessary to gain access to a public road.  The code provision lays out criteria for exercising that right that include locating the access “along a line which is the nearest feasible route to an existing public road”  In this suit, the owners of the servient estate (the land across which the easement would cross) argued that the route suggested by Wilderness Ridge (owner of the landlocked parcel) (1) did not lead to a public road, and (2) did not consider the costs to the servient estate for allowing that route.  The Court of Appeals determined that the route selected by Wilderness Ridge did lead to a public road and would pose fewer costs to Wilderness Ridge than the route offered by the owners of the servient estate, and for that reason allowed condemnation of the route preferred by Wilderness Ridge. 

The Iowa Supreme Court disagreed with the Court of Appeals’s finding that Dudley land was a public road for purposes of Iowa Code 6A.4.  While the road could theoretically be located by it’s designation on old plats, Dudley Lane has never physically existed.  The purpose of the statute is to provide access to landlocked parcels, and providing access to a public road that exists on paper only does not meet legislative intent. 

The Supreme Court also found that the term “nearest feasible route” required a consideration of reasonableness, focusing on the impacts on both parties.  Thus it was incumbent on the courts to consider the value of the land to be condemned in determining the specific route for providing access.

Considering these findings the Supreme Court remanded the case to district court for further fact finding related to the location of the nearest public road and the costs of acquiring a route thereto.

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