City of Tuscaloosa, Landowners in Legal Battle Over Western Riverwalk Property
The city of Tuscaloosa and property owners are engaged in a legal battle over the forced acquisition of four acres of land necessary for the development of the Western Riverwalk, the Thread has learned.
The Tuscaloosa Riverwalk already stretches almost three miles from the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater eastwards past Manderson Landing, offering a well-lit, paved pathway on for walkers, runners, bicyclists and more to enjoy on the banks of the Black Warrior River.
In 2020, the city was awarded a $15 million BUILD grant by the U.S. Department of Transportation to expand the Riverwalk by almost a mile to the west, stretching all the way beyond the Oliver Lock and Dam and the small park and playground there.
A portion of the land needed for the Riverwalk expansion is owned by the United States and managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, which agreed in 2018 to convey that land to the city for the project.
Other parcels, though, are privately owned by TCC Acquisition Partners, LLC, a development group that purchased the Country Club of Tuscaloosa in 2013.
The stage for the current legal conflict was set in late June, when the Tuscaloosa City Council passed a resolution authorizing the city attorney to acquire property and utility easements for the Western Riverwalk through condemnation proceedings in probate court.
Less than a month later, city staff moved to do just that and filed a complaint asking Probate Judge Rob Robertson to condemn a little more than four acres of property owned by TCC Acquisition Partners, LLC and hand it over to the city.
The parcels in question are slivers of land near the bank of the river and do not include the country club or any other buildings or structures.
"The Defendants' property, as described herein, is needed in addition to the property conveyed by the United States to the City along the bank of the Black Warrior River as portions of the conveyance by the United States are not sufficiently wide enough to construct the River Walk," deputy city attorney Tom Bobbitt wrote in the complaint. "This project is critical in helping to connect the West End of Tuscaloosa to the Riverwalk trail and to spur development in the historically neglected area of the City."
Bobbitt goes on to restate the city's commitment to enhancing and investing in Western Tuscaloosa and said staff has declared it "necessary, useful and expedient" to acquire the land in question by condemnation.
Robertson had a potential conflict of interest in the case and ultimately local attorney and Northport municipal judge Paul Patterson was appointed to serve as Special Probate Judge in the condemnation case.
Throughout the process, attorneys for TCC Acquisiton Partners, LLC objected to the condemnation and outlined ways they felt the city failed to follow the letter of the law governing this kind of acquisition by way of condemnation, but Patterson was ultimately unmoved.
On August 15th, he granted the condemnation and appointed three independent special commissioners to determine the value of the property the city would seize.
By September 1st, the three commissioners said the property owners are entitled to $503,000 to compensate for the loss of the land.
On September 12th, Patterson issued a final decree of condemnation, which granted the city "the immediate right of possession of and to said lands."
State law gives all parties 30 days to appeal a probate court's order, though, and TCC Acquisition Partners has elected to do so. The case has been transferred to the Circuit Court of Tuscaloosa County, where Judge Bradley Almond will now oversee it.
Attorneys for the city and for the property owners in this case declined to provide comment for this report because litigation of the matter is still ongoing.
Stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread for more on the appeal as additional details become available.
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