Right-of-Way Donations: Getting more bang for your buck

Steve Shanholtzer, SR/WA
Right-of-Way Supervisor
City of Springfield, Missouri

It is important to focus on ways to achieve more with less when it comes to public improvement projects. One way to stretch the project dollars is to explore the possibility of acquiring donations from landowners who are affected by public projects such as street widenings.

The City of Springfield, Missouri has been successful in the past few years in our efforts to ask for and receive donations of right-of-way in its acquisition program. A few of the ways we accomplish this are as follows:

Don't be bashful. Ask the property owner if they will consider donating the necessary right-of-way easements and foregoing the appraisal process. You would be surprised at how many times this results in a positive response. Sure, there are many turndowns, but the times you hear "yes" are worth the effort.

Become a salesperson and advocate the quality improvement to their street intersection that is planned. Let the property owner know that the project should be a big plus to their location and will better serve their customers and long-term needs. Once they see this, the rest of the process becomes much easier. One resistance to deal with is the negative impact of having the street disrupted during construction. Once the owners become aware of your commitment to a quick construction schedule and your reputation for doing other similar intersection improvements quickly, that is a big help.

Develop a team approach if at all possible. Just to send the right-of-way agent out alone to ask for a donation is really not the way to maximize your chances for success. Some agencies use a team approach and send not only the right-of-way agent, but a few of the top management team personnel. This shows the property owner the level of commitment and that the people with the "wherewithal" are behind the donation effort. It gives the property owner a greater comfort level with the overall plan for the project.

If at all possible, get a commitment for a donation early on in the process. Sometimes, the property owner will ask for the appraisal first and then make the decision. Sometimes the appraisal can be used by the property owner at tax time and shown as a tax benefit to them (ask them to refer this to their accountant for tax advice). But more often than not, the appraised figure comes in such that they opt for the payment. Again, try and get the donation commitment before the appraisal is done if at all possible.

The donation does not always have to come in the form of a donated right-of-way easement. It can take the form of another contribution such as a case we recently had with a bank. They had a nice, expensive advertising sign, but had recently changed their name due to a merger. The bank agreed to relocate and put up a new sign at no cost to the City. It is just yet another way to maximize the win-win possibilities that exist due to exploring various options.

Stress the positives for the landowner associated with the donation. Some of these include recognition at the ribbon-cutting ceremony dedicating the street. A special plaque commemorating them for their generosity is nice. There are several of our plaques hanging on the walls of nationally-franchised restaurants and retail stores. Have the property owner (or store manager) join the Mayor for a picture while cutting the dedication ribbon. Erect a large temporary billboard thanking the property owner for their donation so the traveling public can take note of this.

The City of Springfield has had good fortune in gaining the cooperation of its business citizens and, in some cases, the right-of-way donations may approach $50,000 on a project entailing $100,000 worth of right-of-way. In some cases, 100 percent of the right-of-way turns out to be donated right-of-way. Whatever the dollar amount of donated right-of-way turns out to be, it shows that the community supports the project and that the tax dollars are able to stretch further and do more.

For more information, please contact Steve Shanholtzer at (417) 864-1938 or at sshanhol@mail.orion.org.