Widow feels singled out for bypass condemnation after filing suit

It has been back and forth since October between Fayette County and Tillman Road property owner Charlene Denney over a portion of her land the county wants for right-of-way for Phase 2 of the West Fayetteville Bypass. Now five months later, little has changed to correct the impasse.

Referencing what is essentially a stalemate, the county’s land acquisition agent Diana Hunt on Jan. 30 said she would be recommending that the county initiate legal proceedings to acquire the property.

Though the proceedings have not been initiated by the county, Denney last week said she cannot help but wonder if the county is singling her out over the lawsuit she filed in September alleging her husband’s wrongful death involving county emergency medical response personnel.

County attorney Scott Bennett on Tuesday said the potential action stems from Denney saying she will take the county to court over the land acquisition matter. That communication potentially shut down further negotiations, Bennett said.

Denney on Feb. 4 provided The Citizen with copies of letters and emails between herself and county land acquisition agent Diana Hunt & Associates and right-of-way agent Jinnie Lee Fertal.

Fertal on Oct. 4 sent a letter to Denney on Fayette County letterhead noting plans for the bypass and informing her that she would be contacted by Booker Real Estate Services, LLC about negotiating right-of-way and easements on behalf of the county.

Denney said she received a call from Booker on Oct. 25 or 26 and scheduled an appointment for Oct. 29.

“That morning on the 29th he called me and said, ‘I just got a call from the county and they told me not to meet with Ms. Denney today. I don’t know why, so when I find out when we can meet I’ll give you a call,’” Denney said. “To this date (Feb. 4) Mr. Booker has never called me back.”

Bennett on Tuesday said he has no record of the Oct. 29 call. Bennett added that every conversation between property owners and agents representing the county is documented, such as the attempts to contact Denney on Nov. 1,2,4,10,16 and 29 and on several occasions in January.

Denney on Nov. 10 received a letter from Hunt pertaining to Denney’s Tillman Road property. Hunt explained that the county wanted to acquire 3,354 square feet of property in fee simple for right-of-way. The fair market value of the property was $1,140.36, the letter said.

Hunt also noted a fair market value of $951.32 for 5,596 square feet of permanent slope easement and a value of $192.71 for 2,834 square feet of temporary construction easement. All totaled, the county offered $2,284, the letter said.

Bennett said Denney’s five-acre tract was valued by the county at $18,500 per acre.

Denney received another letter from Hunt on Jan. 19. In that letter, Hunt noted the county’s desire to acquire Denney’s property, saying that, “The county prefers to and does purchase most of the right-of-way and/or easements needed for projects. As litigation is costly to both the county and landowner, it is our sincere desire that upon reconsideration of the offer previously presented to you on behalf of Fayette County that a settlement can be reached, hopefully avoiding litigation.”

Hunt in the letter also said that in order to reach a timely conclusion and an amicable settlement, “It is imperative that we receive some satisfactory response from you on or before Jan. 29. Legal proceedings will be instituted after this date if we have not received an executed option, or some other form of satisfactory reply.”

Denney responded to Hunt on Jan. 29. saying she would see them in court.

“When your company or Fayette County drags me into court I will have my property appraised by a reputable appraiser and ask them to factor in the loss of value based on the road, sound levels, security, trees removed and more losses on my property,” Denney’s letter said. “Let this letter required by you (serve as) my ‘satisfactory response.’”

A Jan. 30 email from Hunt followed. The email explained that Hunt would be recommending that the county proceed with securing her property.

“I regret that we are not going to be able to reach a settlement with you regarding the required property rights. Therefore, I will move forward with recommending that the county proceed with filing the Declaration of Taking Petition, If however you would like to consider submitting a reasonable counter-offer, I am sure the county will certainly give it consideration in hopes of avoiding litigation,” Hunt said.

Bennett in response to Hunt’s letter said Tuesday that while he does not become involved in right-of-way acquisition issues unless agents reach an impasse with property owners, it appears that such is the case with Denney. Bennett said Hunt’s Jan. 30 email followed the Jan. 29 correspondence from Denney noting that she would be taking the county to court with her own appraisal of her property.

As for where things stand now, Bennett said the Declaration for Taking Petition has not been filed.

“With the property owner shutting down the negotiations and not being willing to talk, what are we to do?” Bennett asked.

Prior to making the filing, Bennett said he will make another attempt to contact Denney through her attorney.

So that is where things stand for Charlene Denney. Almost. For Denney there is another matter she believes is intertwined with the attempt to secure the right-of-way. It deals with her lawsuit against Fayette County in connection with the death of her husband, Dickie, in 2009.

Denney last week told The Citizen that she cannot help but wonder if the lawsuit is somehow connected to the county’s pending litigation to acquire her property.

West Fayetteville Bypass Coalition representative Ginga Smithfield last week said that she had contacted 18 of the 28 families with property along the bypass route. The 18 families have received initial contact letters, Smithfield said, but none of them have received letters indicating that legal proceedings were being recommended.

“I’m upset about this,” Denney said. “I feel like I’m being singled out because of this lawsuit over the wrongful death of my husband by county employees.”

A wrongful death lawsuit against Fayette County and 11 county emergency medical technicians was filed in Spalding County State Court in September.

The suit stems from the April 28, 2009 death of 57-year-old Fayette County resident Dickie Denney. The suit by Denney’s wife Charlene alleges that her husband’s death resulted from a number of errors including the administration of what became a fatal overdose of morphine.

Denney filed a wrongful death lawsuit on Sept. 9, 2010 naming Fayette County, Fayette Emergency Medical Technician Jason Crenshaw and John Does 1-10 as defendants. Denney maintains in the suit that her husband’s death followed a number of errors made after EMTs arrived at their home.