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School board might seize land

School district officials will ask the Modesto City Schools Board of Education on Monday night for permission to seize parts of seven properties to make road improvements around Gregori High School in Salida.

A district official said Friday the use of eminent domain would be a "last resort" if agreements can't be reached with property owners by next month.

"We've already had weather delays, we don't want any other undue delays," said Dana McGarry, director of planning and research. "If we aren't able to come to an agreement, we can forge ahead and acquire the property through eminent domain."

The district needs parts of 17 properties to begin widening Dale and Stoddard roads and move public utility poles near Gregori High School, which is scheduled to open to freshmen and sophomores in fall 2010. Since McGarry began negotiating with owners in August, the district has executed purchase agreements or opened escrow on five properties, she said.

The property needed to widen the roads ranges from a couple of feet to as much as 20 feet, McGarry said. Other property owners will be paid for having utility poles relocated onto their properties, she added.

McGarry wouldn't give specifics on the offers given to the landowners but said they were offered fair market value as determined by a state-certified appraiser.

Although the regional housing market has collapsed, land values remain steady, she said.

Robert Gunn, who has lived on Stoddard Road since 1963, said the district has offered to buy the front 20 feet of his property to widen Stoddard and compensate him for relocating utility poles onto his lot. He wouldn't give specifics on the district's offer or his counteroffer.

"We're not being unreasonable," Gunn said. "We think it's reasonable what we offered to them."

A public hearing on the issue will take place at the Modesto City Schools Board of Education meeting at 6 p.m. Monday in the Staff

Development Center, 425 Locust St. in Modesto.

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at mbalassone@modbee.com or 578-2337.

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