Jury awards $6.7 million after district took property by eminent domain

The Beaverton School District lost a $6.7 million lawsuit against a Tigard cemetery, ending a yearlong legal battle over the property it planned to purchase to build a new high school. 

Crescent Grove Cemetery has owned 15 acres of property on Southwest Scholls Ferry Road and 175th Avenue for nearly than 50 years.

The district has had plans for years to build a new high school in South Cooper Mountain and took the land under eminent domain. Under the U.S. Constitution the district is required to pay property owners fair market value for the land.

“They have to offer just compensation under the Constitution and state law,” said Jim Zupancic, a lawyer representing the Crescent Grove Cemetery Association, a nonprofit group that runs the cemetery and maintains the property. “But there can be differences of opinion of what fair market value is.”

According to Maureen Wheeler, a spokeswoman for the Beaverton School District, the district appraised the land at more than $1 million.

“We did appraisals on the site, if not once, then more than once,” Wheeler said.

The district offered $1.3 million for the land, and later increased its offer to $1.7 million, according to Zupancic.

The district purchased a neighboring property for a similar amount, Wheeler said.

“We offered a sum of about $125,000 an acre,” Wheeler said. “That is what we also settled with for the (other) property.”

Crescent Grove contested the price, claiming the $1 million price tag did not reflect what the cities of Beaverton and Tigard are planning for the area.

On its face, the area looks like simple farmland, Zupancic said, but the area is expected to explode with growth in the next few years, which has an effect on its market value.

“When a jury looks at this, they have to ask themselves if the land owner did not have it taken by a school, what would a buyer and seller transaction look like?” Zupancic said. “You can’t say that it’s farmland in the middle of nowhere and then say that they need it desperately because there are kids coming.”

Wheeler said the cemetery association asked for $10 million for the 15 acres of land. When Crescent Grove refused to accept Beaverton's final offer of $1.7 million, the district filed a lawsuit in April 2013, Zupancic said.

After a two-week trial in Washington County Circuit Court, a jury sided with the cemetery association, ruling that the district pay $6.7 million for the land, as well as attorney’s fees.

“Our clients feel that the verdict was fair and just,” Zupancic said. “The jury thoughtfully weighed all the evidence and came to a consensus on a reasonable fair market value. The power of the government to take property was tempered by the judgment of the jury. This is how the framers of the Constitution intended the process to work.”

It’s more expensive than the district wanted to spend, Wheeler said. But it could have been worse.

“The award for us is $4.2 million less than they had originally sought, so that’s more than what we had thought,” Wheeler said.

Zupancic, who served on the Lake Oswego School Board from 1997 to 2001, said he understands the need for a school in the area.

“We are very supportive of public education and supportive of the Constitution, but in this case, the Constitution demanded that they step up and pay the fair market value.” 

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