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State of Idaho, Idaho v. Hi Boise

June 29, 2012

STATE OF IDAHO, IDAHO TRANSPORTATION BOARD, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
HI BOISE, LLC, A DELAWARE LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT, AND MORTGAGE ELECTRONIC REGISTRATION SYSTEMS, INC. A DELAWARE CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Ronald J. Wilper, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Jones, Justice.

2012 Opinion No. 103

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

The judgment of the district court is affirmed.

This appeal arises from a condemnation action brought by the State of Idaho, Idaho Transportation Board (ITD) against HI Boise, LLC to acquire a strip of land as part of a project to improve the I-84/Vista Avenue Interchange in Boise. ITD offered HI Boise the condemned property's appraised value of $38,177, but HI Boise filed a counterclaim for inverse condemnation, claiming damages of $7.5 million for additional lost rights of access and visibility. HI Boise now appeals from the district court's summary dismissal of those claims. Because we find that neither claim involves a compensable taking, we affirm.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This dispute was sparked by an ITD project known as the "Interstate 84/Vista Interchange Project." In response to increased traffic demands at the intersection of I-84 and Vista Avenue in Boise, ITD initiated the $30 million project to replace the existing interchange, add lanes to I-84, widen and lengthen on- and off-ramps to and from the Interstate, and widen and improve the Vista Avenue overpass extending across I-84. The interchange was replaced with a Single Point Urban Interchange (SPUI) with a single traffic light at the center controlling north-south traffic and converging on- and off-ramp traffic via protected left-hand turns in each direction. The project was completed in the fall of 2010.

HI Boise owns a 9.15-acre piece of real property located at the northeast corner of the I- 84/Vista Avenue intersection, where it owned and operated a Holiday Inn during the proceeding below.*fn1 The main access to the property before the project was an approximately 40-foot wide, full-movement driveway*fn2 from Vista Avenue on the property's west edge. The property also has two full-movement driveways from Sunrise Rim Road along the north edge of the property, one of which it shares with a convenience store.

In order to widen and raise a section of Vista Avenue to meet the new overpass, ITD condemned a narrow strip along the west edge of the HI Boise property, on which it constructed a new bike lane and sidewalk. The strip of condemned property is approximately 7 feet wide and 133 feet long, totaling approximately 960 square feet.*fn3 The alterations to Vista also required ITD to alter HI Boise's main access from Vista. ITD constructed a new driveway in substantially the same location, moving the driveway's approach 2.055 feet south and 4.480 feet east and increasing its grade.*fn4 The width of the driveway was not changed by the reconstruction. Other than the alteration to the approach, the driveway remains in the same place it was before.

The Vista access was granted by ITD's predecessor in interest to HI Boise's predecessors in interest by two 1967 deeds, each reserving "access to Vista Avenue Northeasterly from Station 24.01 of said Vista Avenue Survey." HI Boise alleges that the specific location, dimension, and size of the driveway was "apparently authorized and/or permitted by ITD's predecessor," but its only support for that assertion is the 1967 deeds. ITD asserts that a review of its records reveals no permit or evidence of the original location of the driveway when the original Vista Interchange and Holiday Inn were built in 1967. ITD's records also indicate that the driveway's location was moved at least one other time, in 1972, and that the road striping on Vista Avenue limited the driveway to right-in, right-out turns until the early 1990s.

It is undisputed that the alterations to the stretch of Vista Avenue bordering HI Boise's property did not involve adding lanes, medians, restrictive signals or signage, restrictive striping, or other traffic control measure. Before and after the project, Vista Avenue consisted of five lanes-- two northbound, two southbound, and one center turn lane. In addition, it is undisputed that none of the driveways to the HI Boise property have been physically closed or affirmatively restricted by the project alterations, as all remain full-movement driveways. Following the project, the entirety of the Vista driveway remains northeasterly of Station 24.01, as provided in the 1967 deeds.

To complete the project, ITD also acquired two temporary construction easements on HI Boise's property--one 2,483-square-foot easement for reconstruction of the Vista driveway and one 3,136-square-foot easement for construction of a 20-foot sound wall. The sound wall was constructed entirely on ITD's right-of-way--not on HI Boise's property. HI Boise points to this and other aspects of the project that allegedly limit its property's visibility to passing motorists. In addition to the sound wall--which apparently blocks visibility of the hotel's billboard from the freeway--the project involved (1) reconfiguring the exit point for westbound traffic approximately 260 feet further east, thereby preventing motorists from seeing the hotel in time to exit at Vista Avenue; and (2) increasing the height of the overpass by as much as approximately 14 feet*fn5 and widening it, thereby decreasing visibility of two of the hotel's other signs. It is undisputed that none of these aspects of the project were constructed on HI Boise's property.

An MAI-certified appraiser determined the fair market value of the property taken and impacts on the remaining property to be $38,177, and ITD initially offered that amount to HI Boise. When negotiations were unsuccessful, ITD initiated this action on February 19, 2009, seeking condemnation. HI Boise counterclaimed for inverse condemnation and submitted a business damages claim under I.C. § 7-711(2), estimating losses between $7.1 and $7.5 million. HI Boise alleged that in addition to the 960-square-foot strip of land, ITD also effectively condemned (1) its primary access to the property from Vista Avenue and (2) its ability to be seen by passing motorists. It also claimed damages for increased noise resulting from the project but later abandoned that claim. HI Boise's access claims were threefold. First, it argued that the movement of the Vista driveway from its original location constituted a taking of the access right reserved in the 1967 deeds. Second, it argued that the new driveway exceeded minimum grade standards, making it unsafe to accommodate busses, trucks, and emergency vehicles. Third, it argued that aspects of the overall project would produce backed-up traffic at the Vista driveway,*fn6 effectively restricting the driveway to a right-in/right-out access rather than a full-movement access and requiring motorists to use its other, more circuitous driveways (the circuity claim).

A bifurcated trial was set--a bench trial to determine the scope of the taking and a jury trial to determine HI Boise's damages. ITD made two motions for partial summary judgment, arguing that: (1) the slight movement of the driveway did not amount to a taking because the new driveway remains within the easement described by the 1967 deeds and HI Boise did not "perfect" its right to the driveway's specific location by obtaining a permit;*fn7 (2) the facts show that the new driveway meets all necessary safety requirements and, in fact, was approved by the City of Boise; and (3) a property owner does not have a compensable property right in continued patterns of traffic flow under Idaho law.

The district court denied summary judgment on the first two questions, finding genuine issues of fact whether HI Boise had somehow established a right to the driveway's location and whether the new driveway met safety requirements. However, the court granted summary judgment on the circuity claim, citing State ex rel. Moore v. Bastian, 97 Idaho 444, 546 P.2d 399 (1976), for the proposition that damages due to mere changes in traffic flow to property--such as those caused by traffic control devices--are non-compensable. The court also granted summary judgment to ITD on HI Boise's visibility claim, finding no right to continued visibility of the property under Idaho law.

The district court denied HI Boise's motion for reconsideration on the circuity claim and, although it had reserved questions for trial, approved―and we granted―HI Boise's motion for permissive appeal of the circuity and visibility claims under ...


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