The Board of Supervisors last week took a step closer to using eminent domain to get rights-of-way and easements for the long-planned trail between Round Hill and Franklin Park.
The county has framed the project as a safety measure to get bicyclists off the road and onto a bike and pedestrian path. The project will improve the sidewalk along Loudoun Street in Round Hill and construct an asphalt path from Franklin Park to Marbury Street in the Lake Point neighborhood. It will connect at either end of an existing trail that connects Newberry Crossing Place and the Lake Point Subdivision, crossing under Rt. 7 south of the Loudoun Street interchange.
The project will also involve building a storm sewer to tackle drainage and flooding problems.
The Department of Transportation and Capital Infrastructure expects to spend about $75,000 acquiring land through condemnation.
With the unanimous vote to send the question of exercising eminent domain to their July 20 meeting, supervisors signaled that if holdout landowners can’t reach an agreement by then, the county could force their hand.
County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said eminent domain should be used “so sparingly, even for valid and important reasons.”
“There are very few reason I would agree to eminent domain, and one of those reasons is safety,” Randall said.
Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said he hoped the vote will be a “beacon” to landowners along the trail’s route to come to an agreement.
“This one gives me a little bit of heartburn, honestly,” Letourneau said. “A trail project is not usually where I would be comfortable with eminent domain. However, I do understand the argument that it’s a safety issue.”
In February, the county adopted a policy to be more aggressive with eminent domain in transportation projects, acquiring rights-of-way earlier in the design process for projects and being ready to move ahead with eminent domain more quickly when negotiations stall. The Virginia Department of Transportation uses a similar process in its own road projects.
There is also a “quick take” process, in which the county first takes possession and a court later decides the price of the land or easement, but for a pedestrian path the parcel must be in a VDOT right of way. Parts of this project do not qualify for quick take.