By Mason W. Canales

Killeen Daily Herald

HARKER HEIGHTS - The city is still negotiating for property to build water infrastructure adjacent to its maintenance yard on Veterans Memorial Boulevard, but the courts have already assigned special commissioners to hear the case if the entities don't come to terms.

The city's attorney is meeting with Luree Inc.'s - the current property owners - attorney for negotiations, said City Manager Steve Carpenter.

"I think we are pretty close, so hopefully, we will have some agreement," he said.

In early December, the City Council authorized the city to condemn the land after the city tried to reach a deal with Luree Inc. for several months. The city's latest offer at the time of that action was $62,000, which was based on a third-party real estate appraiser.

After the action, the city filed a petition for condemnation with the county clerk's office, which was placed in the County Court at Law No. 3 before Judge Rebecca Depew. Three special commissioners were also appointed to the case Dec. 15 - Bill Jones, Tom Ray and Michael Brock.

The commissioners act as an administrative authority and not a court authority, but they do set up a hearing for the case, said County Court of Law No. 1, Judge Edward Johnson.

Johnson has been trying condemnation cases for 25 years in Bell County, he said.

The petition for condemnation is rarely denied, because of the Texas Constitution, Johnson said.

"Once the (condemning authority) established a public necessity, they have the right to take the right," he said.

There is really no time frame for this process, Johnson said. The commissioners schedule the hearing between the two parties and they will set the assessed damages for the property that is being condemned.

"Both sides will appear at that hearing," he said. "The condemning authority then presents what their plans are for the property, and they will generally have some real estate broker to assess what the damages are."

Sometimes each party agrees that the award from the commission is fair and they except it; however, each party can file an objection to the award, which turns the condemnation case into a "live suit," Johnson said.

If an objection is filed with the court, the condemning entity has the right to file a deposit with the court registry and start construction, Johnson said. The deposit will then be awarded at some point after the trial. And if the courts decide the property is worth more, the condemning entity would have to pay more, if it is less, than the original owner gets less.

"(The parties) generally settle," Johnson said. "I would suspect about one out of 10 go to trial."

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