WHAT IS EMINENT DOMAIN?
Eminent domain is the taking of land by a governmental entity for a public use. Public use has a very broad meaning with lots of specific requirements that change based on how the land will be used. Eminent domain proceedings can involve an entire tract of land owned by a person, a specific section of that land, or even an easement related to the land. In order to take property by eminent domain the Texas Constitution and the United States Constitution both require that the governmental entity provide just compensation for the land that they are taking. Basically, the government can take land for “the greater good” but they have to pay you a reasonable amount of money before they can do it. The setting of the reasonable amount is where the conflict usually arises and that is where the commissioners come into play.
HOW DOES A COMMISSIONERS’ HEARING WORK?
In Texas, the process of “condemning” land through eminent domain begins by the making of an offer. This offer must comply with very specific requirements set out in section 21 of the Texas Property Code. If certain time periods pass and this offer is not accepted or is outright rejected the next step in condemning the property is through a commissioners’ hearing. The commissioners are supposed to be three disinterested landowners from the county who will assess the value of the property to be condemned.
The commissioners assess the value of the property after a hearing that is very similar to any other judicial proceeding in Texas. The commissioners are selected by a judge in the county where the property is located and there are certain processes for objecting to a specific commissioner. The commissioners are not elected officials like most judges in Texas. The commissioners do have the power to hold people in contempt like judges do. Similar to other legal proceedings, there are specific notice requirements and timelines that a commissioners’ hearing must follow.
IS THE COMMISSIONERS’ HEARING THE FINAL STEP?
The commissioners’ finding is not necessarily the final step in an eminent domain proceeding. Like other types of proceedings, a party has the right to object to the finding and appeal the case to a higher court. If you have any questions or concerns regarding an eminent domain proceeding involving your property contact Guest and Gray today and we can set up a time to discuss your rights and options.