An attorney representing Johnson City will recommend to the City Commission on Thursday a property settlement agreement with U-Haul which, if successful, would end about two years of litigation over possession of the company’s downtown location for use as a flood mitigation project.
“I have a proposal I will recommend to commissioners but I don’t want to give the specifics until I’ve had an opportunity for them to see it, read it thoroughly and have the time needed to consider it,” said Erick Herrin, who has battled a Nashville law firm in Washington County Circuit Court over the matter. “It is a monetary settlement that would end all litigation. I’ve been in negotiations with U-Haul, and they’re in the same position I am. They (attorneys) will be telling their clients what I’ll be telling mine.”
Herrin said he owed it to commissioners to withhold details.
“I just don’t want to put this out to the public and have everyone speculating,” he said. “I want to be fair and not have others drawing conclusions. I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. It will be up to commissioners to direct me.”
In February, the Eastern Section of the Tennessee Court of Appeals in Knoxville denied the company’s request to review a November decision by Circuit Court Judge Thomas Seeley that gave Johnson City the go-ahead to possess and demolish U-Haul’s site at 114 W. King St.
That moved the case back into Seeley’s hands, and the two parties have been waiting for the judge to set a date for a 12-person jury trial to determine what the city should pay to compensate the company for its property.
Johnson City tried for more than a year to get U-Haul to accept an $820,000 offer for the property, and to undergo negotiations to help the company relocate within Johnson City. U-Haul chose not to negotiate but to make a legal challenge.
That money still sits within the Circuit Court’s walls.
Seeley ruled Johnson City did show the condemnation and flood remediation project intended for the downtown U-Haul site was meant for public use and not primarily to generate tax revenue through eminent domain.
This was the first case heard by a Tennessee appellate court involving state statutes regarding eminent domain since 34 states modified laws in 2008 in an attempt to ensure a city would not take property purely for the purposes of economic gain — an argument made by the company’s lead counsel, Thomas Peebles.