The Hyattsville City Council is attempting to use eminent domain to acquire two properties for a proposed parking facility on Hamilton Street to serve the redeveloping Route 1 corridor.
Two lawsuits filed on Oct. 22 with the Prince George's County Circuit Court seek to condemn two properties in the 4500 block of Hamilton Street to make way for the new parking facility. Eminent domain allows a government entity broad powers to acquire land for public improvements in exchange for fair market value compensation for the property. The lawsuits were approved by the Hyattsville City Council in September, according to court documents.
The properties, across the street from each other, are the site of two auto repair shops, D&E Auto Repair Service at 4503 and 4503 Hamilton Street and Harold's Auto Body and Painting at 4508 Hamilton Street.
The D&E Auto Repair Service property is owned by mechanics David Samuel and Earl Guevara. Samuel also lives on the property with his family in an adjacent house. If the city's eminent domain lawsuit is successful, not only will he have to move his business, he will also have to move his family.
Samuel and Guevara have operated their auto repair shop on Hamilton Street since 1998. In 2004 they purchased the land for $575,000. According to the city's lawsuit, the two still have 11 years of payments left on the property.
According to 2010 state tax assessments, the properties at 4503 and 4505 Hamilton Street are valued at $648,000, including site improvements.
They first learned of the city's interest in their property in May. The first offer they received from the city was for $460,000. They turned down this offer, saying that it undervalued the land.
They said that their counter-offer, seeking $1.2 million for the land according to court documents, has been ignored by the city.
"We don't want to sell our property," said Samuel in an interview in his shop. "This is where we make our living. This is where we live."
Last Friday, more than a month after the city brought suit against the property owners, Hyattsville Mayor Marc Tartaro told Patch that the city was engaged in "active negotiations" for the properties.
"Litigation is never active negotiations," said Richard Colaresi, attorney for the city of Hyattsville, in an interview. "But it many times leads to active negotiations."
"Whether or not we are actively negotiating, I am not the person to tell you that, but I can assure you that the city is going to get this property," said Colaresi.
The negotiation process itself has come with its own costs for Samuel and Guevara. Since the city first expressed interest in their land, they said they have had to spend more than $60,000 on lawyers, appraisals and other incidentals.
"By putting us in this position, it is costing us." said Guevara.
Michael Herman, lawyer for Samuel and Guevara, said that the city's initial offer was far lower than what other surrounding properties have gone for in recent years.
"If you look at land transfers that have occurred in the last few years, some of the parcels in the EYA project have gone for approximately $4 million per acre," said Herman in an interview. "The city was offering my client one third the value of their land."
The sentiment is similar for the owner of 4508 Hamilton Street, Richard Loesberg, and his tenant, Harold Alfred, who has operated an auto body and paint shop on the property since 1977.
Loesberg, whose family has owned the property since 1979, said that the city has not offered a fair market value for the land. According to court documents, the city offered to pay $540,000 for the property.
"We're inexperienced in commercial real estate transactions," said Loesberg, who works for a food distributor. "We kind of thought the city did it's homework…but we started asking around and learned that nearby properties had gone for three times as much."
Loesberg made a counter-offer, but he declined to disclose the price he countered with. His counter offer was not detailed in court documents.
According to state tax records, Loesberg's property–including improvements on the land–is assessed at $613,000.
Harold said that he worries what will become of his business if the court approves the eminent domain condemnation. His business employs five people.
"I don't know what will become of me afterwards," said Alfred. "If I am on the street or if the business will cease to exist anymore. I don't know what will happen."