by Gary Taylor
Edward A. Green and Melvin J. Green, v. Wilderness Ridge, LLC
(Iowa Court of Appeals, May 11, 2011)
This case is a continuation of two previously reported cases, an Iowa Supreme Court case decided January 8, 2010, which itself was an appeal of an Iowa Court of Appeals case decided May 29, 2009 (see the Court of Appeals case for a full account of the facts). The 2010 Iowa Supreme Court case vacated the 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.” as required under Iowa Code 6A.4(2). The courts were essentially given two routes to choose from – a northern route and a southern route. The Supreme Court found that the term “nearest feasible route” required a consideration of reasonableness, focusing on the impacts on both parties. The Supreme Court remanded to the trial court, noting that it is incumbent on the courts to consider the value of the land to be condemned in determining the specific route for providing access.
On remand, the district court condemned the northern route, relying on the Greens’ real estate experts who opined that the southern route would be costly and disruptive to the farming operation. Wilderness Ridge appealed, arguing the Greens’ evidence did not support the condemnation damages alleged. Giving due weight to the district court’s factual findings and considering both the ease of constructing the road and its harm to neighboring properties, the Court of Appeals in the present case agreed the northern approach is the “nearest feasible route.”
The Court relied on testimony from two farm realtors that fencing off the access road along the southern route would significantly reduce the value of the Greens’property by as much as $190,000. Other testimony substantiated that even if fencing was not required, would take a toll on their farm in other ways. Construction of the road itself will alter the crop field borders and point rows which will shrink the productive capacity of the land. A real estate broker estimated that the reduction in tillable acres alone from construction of the southern route would cost the Green brothers as much as $27,500 over the next twenty years. The evidence also suggested that building an access road along the southern route would change the drainage patterns of the adjacent farm fields.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the determination of the district court.