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Turner Drake & Partners Ltd.
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Halifax, N.S.
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Canada

Tel.: (902) 429-1811
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Toronto, ON.
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# Monday, August 15, 2016

Linear projects such as transmission line rights of way (RoW) are fertile ground for seeds of suspicion, mistrust and hostility. The scale of the project which may involve dozens, if not hundreds of property owners ensures that the acquiring authority is required to deal with a similar number of individuals. The very nature of the scheme, the forcible taking of property from people who individually stand to gain little from its outcome, often fans the flame of opposition… an experience that pits the “little guy” against corporate Canada. This is worsened if the acquiring authority deploys agents who rely on bluff, bluster and bonhomie rather than real estate expertise, and consider it their mandate to minimize the compensation payable.

Few acquiring authorities assess compensation on a property-specific basis before opening negotiations, or follow the leadership of the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal and agree to the owner retaining professional advice at the acquiring authority’s expense. Most regard the property owner as a hindrance. They wait until negotiations founder before preparing an accurate estimate of the compensation properly payable under the Expropriation Act presumably on the assumption that, since they have not expropriated the property, anything goes. Even when a formal estimate of loss is prepared by an independent appraiser, it may not address the entire compensation… little wonder then that property owners distrust authority.

As part of our Counselling Division, which has completed the valuation and negotiation of compensation for several large infrastructure projects, I have seen tension between the acquiring authority and landowners unfold. Based on those experiences, here are the Top 5 reasons property owners use to warn the acquiring authority to “Stay off my land!”

5. The Grudge

One of the most difficult obstacles to overcome is a landowner who simply does not trust the acquiring authority. Often this is because they have been forced to part with their land in the past to make way for an already established RoW, and their previous experience was not a good one. Landowners that are approached yet again may view the current acquisition as a way to “settle the score” for an acquisition they feel was handled poorly in the past. A landowner that has a longstanding negative view of the acquiring authority may be difficult to deal with from Day 1.

4. Uninvited Guests

Much like the stress caused by termites, cockroaches or your in-laws, many landowners worry about the uninvited guests that a new RoW across their land may bring: hunters, recreational vehicles or people looking for a quiet place to dump their garbage. These concerns generally involve worries about damage to the land, liability issues and environmental impact.

3. Au Naturel

Appearances can be deceiving, and sometimes scrub land that appears to have little value may offer far more than meets the eye. Land can harbour an abundance of natural resources from which its owners can profit, such as cultivated crops, gravel deposits, minerals and harvestable timber. Often overlooked is the cost to extract these valuable resources and the fact that market values in many areas already incorporate resource values. Remember to be conscious of over-counting and double-counting when it comes to compensation payments.

2. Nothing Will Ever Be the Same

The general impact of the new RoW is something that almost every landowner contemplates. Some consider the impact to be minimal and will be happy to support the project in exchange for fair compensation payment, but others view the impact as harmful and often have many legitimate concerns that should be addressed. Common concerns include changes to view planes, interference with access, increased noise levels, loss of windbreaks, parcel severance and health concerns.

1. The Greatest Subdivision that Never Was

If I had a nickel for every time I was told that a new RoW was impacting a future subdivision … well, I’d have at least a couple bucks! Impact on future development potential is hands down the most common theme that I have encountered. Sometimes legitimate subdivisions or lands ripe for development are disrupted by RoW projects, and in those instances landowners should be compensated accordingly. However, in my experience many of the “subdivisions” that RoWs just can’t seem to avoid are more of a dream than a reality.

Overall, I would say that the concerns expressed by landowners are often a blend of rational and irrational thought. The world is becoming a more sophisticated place, and landowners are better educated and have access to more information than ever before. In the past, liaison with landowners may have simply included a couple of phone calls and a pat on the back from an employee of the acquiring authority. Nowadays the representative of the acquiring authority should have an increasing number of abilities including exceptional interpersonal skills, above-average organizational skills, patience and training in real estate valuation techniques.

The representative of the acquiring authority should give all landowners the benefit of the doubt and listen carefully to all of their concerns without judgement. Listening to the concerns of a landowner and working with them to mitigate as many of these items as possible is a great way to gain a landowner’s trust. However it is important to be aware that some landowners will go to extreme lengths in order to disrupt the project or increase the compensation payable to them. Good record keeping and a genuine understanding of the burdens that a RoW may bring to a landowner are key.

In the end, you’ll rarely win over every landowner involved in a RoW acquisition, but by keeping these five points in mind, hopefully you can minimize the number of times you hear the phrase “STAY OFF MY LAND!”



Written by Matthew Smith, Manager of our Counselling Division. For more information about our counselling services, feel free to contact him at (902) 429-1811 or MSmith@TurnerDrake.com.

Monday, August 15, 2016 12:43:03 PM (Atlantic Daylight Time, UTC-03:00)  #    -
Counselling