Texas Yard Wins $500,000 In Land Dispute
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Harold Anderson says his salvage yard is “just a mom-and-pop operation.” But that mom-and-pop operation recently challenged the State of Texas in court and won.
Anderson and his wife, Sandra Anderson, who co-own Anderson Auto Salvage in Troy, Texas, recently won an eminent domain dispute against the state. A jury awarded them more than $500,000 in the case. The victory came after a long, drawn-out battle with the state, and the dispute may not be over yet.
Anderson Auto Salvage, located on 18 acres of land along Interstate 35, has been in business for 30 years.
“Sandra and I started it in 1988,” Harold said. “We started at ground zero with nothing.”
Today, the company has 13 employees and around 2,000 to 2,500 vehicles on site.
“We buy imports, American,” Harold said. “We do it all.”
Twelve years ago, the Andersons learned that the State of Texas would be widening the interstate near the business and that the couple would be losing some of their property under eminent domain laws. Eminent domain gives the government the right to take public property for public use, as long as the property owners are compensated for the land.
“At first I wasn’t too upset, because there isn’t much you can do,” Harold said. “We took a wait-and-see attitude.”
Government matters often move slowly, and it was another six years before the Andersons learned exactly how much property they’d lose. In 2012, the state paid the Andersons approximately $65,000 for a 9,500-square-foot slice of the property. The section of land happened to be right in front of the company’s office building, and the state moved the company’s main gate 110 feet to the south.
The change in the gate’s location created a host of logistical headaches as well as safety issues. All traffic, including large trucks, forklifts, and customer vehicles, had to use the same driveway.
“It puts everyone in the position of having to turn around in a small area or back out,” Harold said. “It’s real awkward. Our forklifts have to load and unload and intermingle with truck traffic and customers. That’s not a good deal for us.”
Harold said a few customers have had fender bender accidents since the change.
“(The state) changed the way we do business and made it less safe,” he said. “Our biggest issue is the safety issue. That’s our biggest concern.”
As soon as the Andersons realized how unsafe the new entrance was, they decided to take action.
“The state’s attitude was just move the fence back and keep up operations like it’s no big deal,” he said. “It actually was a big deal. The state had no experience dealing with salvage yards, so they didn’t understand what we do.”
Suing the state has been a very complicated, time-consuming process, Harold said. The Andersons had to hire attorneys, file endless paperwork, and find expert witnesses, such as land planners and appraisers.
“It’s hard to find an appraiser who knows about salvage yards,” Harold said. “We did find one that had some experience in salvage yards, but even then, every salvage yard is different. The ones in a town are different from ones located on the interstate, like ours.”
Oct. 26, a jury found that the state did not adequately compensate the Andersons for their land and awarded the couple more than $500,000. There is still a chance the state could appeal the decision, however. Harold says the state will need to decide whether it will appeal by late January.
“They’re dragging their feet,” he said. “It’s a wait-and-see game. It’s been pretty stressful, to tell you the truth.”
If there’s not an appeal, Harold said he hopes to have enough money from the suit to build a new building and restore the safe traffic flow to the business.
“It’s really not a lot of money, because we had to pay lawyer fees,” he said. “We’re hoping we do come out with enough to build a new building, but if they appeal and drag it on another five years, who knows?”
There’s even more uncertainty because the Andersons want to wait until the state is completely done widening the interstate before they start constructing their new building.
“This is an ongoing deal,” he said. “Until they actually finish the road, I don’t know what the finished product is going to look like.”
And until the company can put up a new building, customers have to deal with ongoing traffic snarls at the current entrance.
“There’s really no winners in deals like this,” Harold said. “That’s the honest truth.”
In the meantime, Anderson Auto Salvage has been focusing more on internet sales and deliveries, and business is going well. Other businesses along I-35 have not been so lucky, however.
“Some of the businesses along the interstate just couldn’t cope,” Harold said. “There were restaurants, other mom-and-pop businesses up and down the interstate that did close down.”
His advice for other auto recyclers who might find themselves in an eminent domain dispute?
“Take your time and know all the facts,” he said. “Know what it’s going to cost you. Be prepared for the long haul, because it can be really time-consuming. Be aware of what you’re getting into, because it can be a long, drawn-out affair.”
No matter what the future brings in the dispute, the Andersons plan to keep the business going.
“We don’t have any choice,” he said. “We have to tough it out and stick with it. This our business. This is what we do. We’re just going to keep going forward, whatever it takes. I’ve made it 30 years. I’m not going to quit now.”