After months of resistance against the county, two Raleigh County residents will once again be in control of their own property.
Michael and Shauntell Durgan regained ownership of their Glen Morgan property after the Raleigh County Commission voted unanimously on Tuesday to reject its prominent estate claim for the property.
The Raleigh County Commission originally seized the 0.2-acre property, located at 281 Ritter Drive, in September, claiming eminent domain and offering owners $1,000 for a beautification project.
The county planned to use the property as part of its “Gateway Project”, which aims to improve the appearance of the entrances to Beckley and Raleigh County.
Michael Durgan was not at the meeting but told the Register-Herald on Tuesday he had been briefed on the news.
However, he said he did not wish to comment on advice from a lawyer the family retained on the matter.
In October, when the property rights dispute first came to light, the couple, who are black, said they filed a civil rights lawsuit with the Raleigh County National Association for the Advancement of Human Rights. People of Color (NAACP) for how they believe Raleigh County attempted to bully his way into taking the property.
“I think race always plays a role, especially if you’re female,” Shauntell said in an interview with The Register-Herald in October.
Michael Durgan said he could not say whether the family had retained an attorney to pursue their claim with the Raleigh County NAACP.
Before voting on the dismissal, Raleigh County commission attorney Bill Roop informed the commission that an appraisal of the property had recently been completed and the appraiser had appraised the property at $9,000.
This valuation was made at the request of the Durgans at an October commission meeting, after the couple challenged the low price the county had initially offered them for the property.
The 0.2-acre property was originally listed in May for around $59,900, according to the Durgans’ realtor Brian Brown.
When the Raleigh County Commission first filed its eminent domain claim for the property in mid-September, it offered the Durgans $1,000 as a “reasonably calculated amount to estimate the value of the property taken,” according to documents filed with the Raleigh County Circuit Court. .
The Dugans, along with Brown, who fought alongside the couple against the county’s claim to the property, have repeatedly said the amount offered by the commission was ridiculously low and unfair.
“I’m just glad the county finally decided to do the right thing,” Brown told The-Register-Herald on Tuesday. “The way this was handled was wrong on so many levels and completely unfair and I’m so happy the right thing is happening for my clients.”
Although the appraised value was much closer to what the commission considered a fair price than what the property was listed for, Brown said he received two offers on the property for at least $25,000.
However, Brown said he had “lost momentum” on those offers made in the fall and both sides were now “quiet” as the Durgans awaited the conclusion of their battle with the commission.
“People are really excited about (buying properties) in the fall when the weather changes, but now in the winter people are slowing down their steps to buying,” he said. “I’m still in conversation with the two (buyers) and hope one of them will complete the sale.”
At the commission meeting, Commissioner Gregory Duckworth said the conclusion of this real estate dispute had resulted in a “win, win” for everyone.
Duckworth said the Durgans will keep their property and make money and the county could see the property had been cleared.
“(The property) had become a dumbing site with an old boat. People were dumping trash there,” he said. “It’s been cleaned up. Mr. Brown claims they can sell it. What a victory, victory. I can’t wait to make it look pretty. That’s what all the calls coming in here were talking about. Clean and make nice.
Duckworth later added that he wishes the Durgans “had been more proactive than reactive” in their resistance to the county’s claim to the property.
The Durgans said they were unaware of the county’s desire for their property until it was removed because letters sent by the county about it were not opened in their home .
The couple said they did not know the meaning of the letters, as they were not sent by certified mail, where a signature is required to receive them.
The Durgans property was once the site of their restaurant, Yesterday’s on the Creek Bar and Grill, which burned down in August 2019.
All that remains of the old restaurant is a concrete slab that was the basement and some partial walls.
In April, the county removed all of these remains and filled the area with earth, after approval from the county commission in March, which noted in its records that proper notices of its intentions had been given to the Durgans.
Shauntell Durgan said she felt the county was not going to demonstrate everything, including the concrete slab she and her husband intended to use as a foundation for a new business.
She said they planned to park a food truck and set up tables on the remaining concrete slab, but once that was gone, so was their plan.
A county lien of $2,500 remains on the property for the cost of demolition.
Brown said it was because of the way the county demolished the property that the Durgans decided to contact him about selling the property.
“We could see the writing on the wall,” Brown said. “(The county) was trying to pull it off for a bit of nothing.”
Now that the county’s eminent domain claim has been dropped, Brown said the Durgans once again have the freedom to do whatever they want with the property, including selling it or keeping it and using it for their new businesses. as they had planned.
“We are still considering a few options,” he said. “Everything is still on the table and we’ll see where we go.”