Baxter and Davis

The intersection of Baxter and Davis is seen on Wednesday. A project to add a signal at the intersection has been blocked after a judge ruled against the city of Bozeman in an eminent domain proceeding where the city had been trying to force a homeowner to sell portions of their front and side yards for right-of-way.

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The city of Bozeman plans to settle a lawsuit over right of way it says is necessary to upgrade an overloaded intersection at Baxter and Davis lanes, paying $140,000 to the homeowners who fought an eminent domain proceeding over their front yard.

The settlement, already signed by Interim City Manager Dennis Taylor and property owners Dianne and William Peterson, is set for ratification by city commissioners Monday. It’s included on the commission’s consent agenda, generally reserved for routine items expected to receive unanimous support.

The city has planned for years to build a traffic signal to replace what it says is an overwhelmed four-way stop at Baxter and Davis. In order to provide space for the project, which includes additional turn lanes, city engineers have sought strips of right of way about 20 feet deep along the front- and side-yards of the home where the Petersons have lived for decades.

Initial negotiations for the easement, which involved a city offer of $38,400 for 19,000 square feet of property in 2015, were unsuccessful. As a result, the city filed eminent domain proceedings aimed at forcing the Petersons to sell the right of way.

Because the Petersons’ land sits in an unincorporated pocket of Gallatin County, though surrounded by property annexed into the city, the family’s lawyers were able to persuade a District Court judge that the land wasn’t subject to the city’s condemnation authority. The judge, John Brown, also awarded the Petersons $113,570 for their litigation costs, according to the settlement agreement.

City attorneys had filed to appeal that ruling to the Montana Supreme Court, but entered a notice last month indicating they had reached a settlement. The settlement is contingent, it says, on the completion of a pending sale of the Petersons’ property to BMLP Management, LLC.

In the interim, the city has ordered a halt on most new development within a half-mile of the Baxter and Davis intersection, which it has classified as “failing” based on how long drivers typically have to wait to pass through it. Before the right of way became an issue, city leaders had held up the signal project as a top priority, using it as an example to justify higher spending on west side street upgrades.

Messages left with Mayor Carson Taylor and the Petersons weren’t returned Friday.

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Eric Dietrich can be reached at 406-582-2628 or edietrich@dailychronicle.com. He is on Twitter at @eidietrich.

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