Jury awards day care owners $1.7M in DOT ruling
by Jason Lowrey
Aug 14, 2014 | 6080 views | 0 0 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Robin Seaverns and her husband, Richard, operate Robin’s Nest Childcare out of their home at 1475 Douthit Ferry Road. The Seaverns received a $1.74 million verdict against the Georgia Department of Transportation, which issued a condemnation order against the property on Feb. 5. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Robin Seaverns and her husband, Richard, operate Robin’s Nest Childcare out of their home at 1475 Douthit Ferry Road. The Seaverns received a $1.74 million verdict against the Georgia Department of Transportation, which issued a condemnation order against the property on Feb. 5. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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As ordered by a Bartow County Superior Court jury on Aug. 7, the Georgia Department of Transportation must pay a local couple $1,736,000 for their property before it can be demolished.

Richard and Robin Seaverns, who operate Robin’s Nest Childcare out of their home, have been under threat of demolition for more than two years as GDOT’s work to widen both Old Alabama Road and Douthit Ferry Road moved forward. However, when the project was first proposed, the Seaverns’ home — and Robin’s Nest — was intended to be left intact.

“It started as far back as 2001, with making changes to the road and planning for it,” said attorney Don Evans, who represented the Seaverns. “My client, of course, attended meetings to see the road plans and at first the road was going to be farther away from their house. It was going to be more at the base of that Grove Park subdivision. Then, more recently, they came out with a plan in 2012. They came out with a plan for the road, but that plan ... the Seaverns’ property was going to have driveways that were too steep to be safe for people coming in and out Douthit Ferry into the day care they operate.

“So they hired an engineer named Craig Fisher, who’s an expert in road design, and he showed the DOT ... the way it affected Seaverns’ property, and they redesigned it for the third time. They spread out the banks of the road and in the end about a foot of the road cuts the house. So they decided to bulldoze the whole house.”

Robin Seaverns said she found out GDOT planned on demolishing her home and business around the fall of 2011. However, after that, she did not hear anything from the department for more than a year. When she attended a December 2013 public information session on the widening of Douthit Ferry Road, she said she talked to a GDOT representative, who indicated demolition would not begin until 2015 when all the right of way was secured.

On Feb. 5, 2014, the Seaverns received a condemnation notice.

“He said, ‘Well, our plan is we can’t do anything until the contractor signs that and he won’t sign it until all the right of ways are bought out and so forth. Our goal is summer of 2015.’ Wasn’t concerned,” Seaverns said. “Feb. 5, get a letter of condemnation, 2014. As we were having that conversation ... they had already, according to the condemnation papers, had already put forth the paperwork for the condemnation. They already knew, and he sat there and told me that.”

The lawsuit settled this month concerned how much the Seaverns deserved to be paid for their property. Evans said GDOT offered approximately $258,000 for the property, which was considered insufficient. Modern laws bar day cares from being operated inside a private home and require a separate structure. GDOT did not recognize that, Evans explained.

“The evidence we put on showed what it was going to take for the Seaverns to replace the function of the property that they had. The DOT’s position was that you could build a day care anywhere, or if you have a day care basically in your basement today, go out and buy another house and put your day care in your basement, but it was just not possible and that’s what we showed the jury,” Evans said. “The zoning laws prevent it and the amount of ... the award was based on the cost to build a freestanding, commercial day care that complied with all building codes and zoning laws and state regulation of day cares.

“Since the 1980s, the state regulation of day care has just grown and grown and grown, so much so that they regulate even the size of changing tables for toddlers. They require that they be located a certain distance from a window and that they have a ventilation system. All of these little factors go into building a new day care center.”

Although the Seaverns are eying a piece of property off Douthit Ferry Road that is nearby and fits the requirements for having a freestanding structure for their day care, they may not have time to build it and a home before GDOT demolishes their current residence.

“From here, we’ve just had a trial, obviously, about the value of the property that was taken from the Seaverns, and that was basically the cost to replace it under modern building and zoning laws,” Evans said. “On Sept. 1 they’re going to bulldoze that house, and even though they don’t plan to build the road until next summer, we can’t talk them out of it. So that was one of the facts the jury learned in the trial.”

Seaverns hoped GDOT will grant an extension into 2015 so a new day care and home can be built.

“It went pretty fast because they want me out of the house in two weeks,” she said. “I have no house. I have no job, no income and I have all these families depending on me to take care of their kids, and I keep trying to tell them it’s OK. We’re going to put in for an extension. We really feel confident, but the DOT’s so angry with the jury’s decision about awarding me a justified $1.7 million to relocate and they’re furious, and I understand that.”

If GDOT decides to appeal, Seaverns continued, no money will be awarded until the process is over.

“I’ve got all my savings into paying these fees. I have hired two different types of appraisers, accountants, engineers, well over $30,000 I’ve spent in fees to get this case built up and my attorney hasn’t even been paid yet. ... We want to buy a piece of property right down the street, but I can’t do anything. I don’t have any funds. No bank’s going to say, ‘When you get out of appellate court, you know, I’m sure the money will be there,’ but there’s no way that’s guaranteed. ... So what I want the DOT [to do] is honor their agreement and let me stay until next summer and not appeal,” she said.

Although Seaverns went through a court battle with GDOT and will eventually lose a home where she has had her business located for more than 25 years, Seaverns said she is not angry that Douthit Ferry is being widened. Her issue, she explained, stems from GDOT’s behavior.

“I want it to be known I have no problem with progress and having to take the corner. Not a problem at all. I understand that. Building [LakePoint Sporting Community] and widening the road is going to be wonderful for Bartow County and the whole state, for that matter. But to take it at the price of what I have to offer here after 26 years, it’s maddening. ... I don’t even have the right word. It’s appalling for them not to recognize what I offer the community and that’s why we had a jury trial,” she said. “I don’t want to say the DOT are bad people, but they need to take a step back and see what they’re doing.”

— Managing Editor Jessica Loeding contributed to this report.