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Property owner goes big with complaint

Two billboards in Pilot Point alert people to a new wastewater treatment facility being built east of town and ask that people call the city council to voice their opinion on the plant.

The individual responsible for the billboards does not identify himself or herself publicly, but one sign offers a clue, stating the city is “attempting to take my land.” The signs are on U.S. 377 North and on FM 455 just west of U.S. 377.

Sharon Shelby, who lives in Dallas, posted the signs. She owns the property and is in an eminent domain fight with the city, which selected her land as the site because it meets parameters needed for a new wastewater treatment plant.

The city will have an eminent domain hearing on the property Jan. 24 in city council chambers at City Hall, said City Manager Alan Guard. The land to be condemned is a 35-acre tract that constitutes a portion of the property situated west of Pecan Creek and north of FM 455, east of Pilot Point.

Guard said in an interview this summer that “the property’s ours once we declare it” and that it just becomes a matter of purchase price after that point, noting the land owner did not accept the city’s offer to purchase the property.

A group of three people on a county eminent domain board will decide the property price, and that group will preside over the hearing on Jan. 24. They will hear arguments from both sides: the owner and city. Guard said the board usually decides on a land purchase price that is close to market value.

In this case, the latest appraisal is $489,000, Guard said. The city offered a little more than that in two different offers: $500,000 and $504,000. The city will receive a fresh appraisal right before the hearing, Guard said.

City officials say construction of a new sewage treatment plant is necessary to comply with state regulations governing the capacity of sewer plants. The current plant on St. James Road is, at last report, operating at 81 percent capacity.

When a wastewater plant reaches 90 percent capacity, state regulations require a new plant be operational. Because of current and expected growth, the city needs to have a new plant online by 2022, city officials said.

Shelby had little to say about the billboards and pointed to a Sept. 21 letter to the editor she wrote to The Post-Signal that would give insight as to why she posted the signs. Shelby plans to attend the hearing and said she thought the billboards were a good idea to communicate her position to the public.

“I’m angry with how they treated me,” she said about the city in a short telephone interview. “It’s shameful how they treat longtime landowners.”

In her letter, Shelby said the 35 acres of land at the center of the eminent domain case have been owned by her family for more than one-half century.

She stated the Shelby/Fields family has long owned land in this area and the families’ philosophy has always been to “keep it as pristine and undeveloped as possible. We are invested in this community and in conserving the land around it.” Her letter further asserts the sewer plant would cause land values around her property to drop, that traffic would increase “dramatically” on 455 and that Pecan Creek will never be the “pure clean creek” it is today.

Aimee Furness, Shelby’s attorney who is based in Dallas, had no comment about the billboards.

In a prepared statement, Guard said: “The City needs to acquire property to construct a wastewater treatment facility to provide for the needs of current and future city residents,” he said. “A case has been filed that involves condemnation of property to provide for the wastewater treatment plant, and is in active litigation. The City hired an independent appraiser, received an appraisal of the property, and has made an offer to the property owner for an amount above the appraised value of the property. The City has no plans to acquire any other property for any other purposes other than this one wastewater treatment plant.”

One billboard sign, erected on U.S. 377 North, describes Pecan Creek as a “pristine creek” next to where the sewer plant will be built.

Guard said the water going into the creek from the new plant will be much cleaner than the water in the creek now.

The domain board typically makes a decision on the case on the day of the hearing, Guard said. Regina Edwards, the attorney handling the matter for the city, did not return a request for comment.

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