This report has been updated.
The Milford City Council has voted to condemn eight acres of a widow’s property and pay her $20,000 for it, so the city can access the adjoining acres that it paid her brother more than $500,000 for.
Milford wants the property to install bike and pedestrian paths that would help connect the town to a new park that is to be built in the southeast of the city off of South Rehoboth Boulevard.
Annette Billings is seeking a lawyer to help her fight. She’s due in court Feb. 13.
The city ‘s move stunned her, she said.
So did the price the city wants to pay her, she said, staring at legal documents about the property spread out over her farmhouse kitchen table.
A 2007 appraisal of the Sharp family farm’s 38 acres — done when the family was thinking about selling lots — put its value at $1.9 million, or $50,000 per acre.
Billings, 66, doubts her land’s value went down as development in the area has soared.
She believes her brother was paid about $25,000 per acre for landlocked property, which is why the city wanted to reach out to her.
The property the city wants to take from her runs along one side of the brother’s and then juts right along the water.
A 2021 appraisal done by the city in 2021 by W. R. McCain & Associates valued 17.02 acres at $26,000 per acre for a total of $445,520.
The May 2023 city appraisal, done by Dover Consulting Services Inc., puts the value of three pieces of her property at $615,000, including the two pieces that lay along wetlands. The appraisal says the most likely use of the property is residential.
At one time, Billings had agreed to talk to Rob Pierce, director of Milford’s Planning & Zoning, about a possible purchase and even told him he could have an appraisal done, as long as the city paid for it.
Then she backed out, telling Pierce she was not interested and didn’t want the appraisal after she saw the 2021 and realized they wanted all the property.
Pierce and others called several times to talk to her, but she would not change her mind. When she got notice of the appraisal being done, she emailed Pierce to tell him she didn’t want it.
Efforts were not successful to reach Pierce for comment.
“So I was done with them then,” she said.
Then she got a letter from David Rutt, the city attorney, saying her eight acres was only worth $15,000, but the city would give her $20,000.
Billings, who raises chickens for a living, said she’s like many others: land rich and cash poor.
She was not aware the city had decided to condemn the property so it could then use eminent domain to take it from her until she was served a notice of the lawsuit the city had filed against her.
The Council discussed the move in executive session, as it does with real estate matters, but voted in public.
City Councilmember Todd Cullota declined to comment on the move, except to say he was the only one who did not vote for it.
“I was 100% against this,” he said. “I don’t believe that a government entity should take private land. If the owner wants to sell it, that’s fine. But if the owner does not want to sell it, I don’t think it’s fair for us to try to take it under the guise of it’s good for the greater public.”
He said city officials had received an email Jan. 29 telling them to refer any calls about the matter to Rutt.
Focus on bike paths
Creating a city-wide trail is one of the focuses of the Milford Planning Department.
On Tuesday, Feb. 6, it will hold a public hearing on plans to identify gaps in the pedestrian and bicycle network in the area, paying attention to the North Rehoboth Boulevard and North Walnut Street corridor.
Representatives from the city and the Dover/Kent County Metropolitan Planning Organization will be available during the two-hour period to review initial study findings and recommendations, a city press release said.
Billings said she can’t believe her wetlands are any place to pave a bike and pedestrian trail.
She and her neighbors also have been worrying — with no proof — that the city might try to put a proposed tiny house homeless village out there instead of on property near the old or new police stations.
Complicating her worry is a July 27 notice she got from Chesapeake Utilities Corp. saying it was going to purchase a 10-foot wide easement through her property on the east side of Lovers Lane, known as the Marshall Pond Park for $5,000 and would install a gas pipeline through it.
In addition to the easement, it would also require a 10-foot wide area to work in while the pipeline is being installed, a letter from the utility company said.
Billings and her neighbors believe that’s more proof that the homeless village could end up there, because it would have access to gas.
Efforts were unsuccessful to reach Milford Mayor Archie Campbell about Billings’ property.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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