The state must purchase 38 plots, or right of ways, before it can begin its estimated $24 million reconfiguration of the interchange in summer 2014. The affected properties are all located along N.C. 209, the U.S. 74/23 access road, and Paragon Parkway.
So far, N.C. DOT has bought 20 properties and arrived at an acceptable price with another seven property owners. The purchase price for 11 parcels remain in negotiations.
DOT expects to spend $9.7 million to acquire the right of ways. As of last week, the department had only used $3.8 million of its acquisition budget. However, that does not include the 18 properties that the state does not formally own yet.
“Some people I am sure we are still negotiating with,” said Brian Burch, a construction engineer with DOT. “Others may have decided they’re not interested in negotiating so they would prefer to be condemned.”
When N.C. DOT and a property owner can’t agree on a price, DOT uses the power of imminent domain to simply take the property, and pay whatever the DOT believes is fair market value. The owner then has one year to rebut the state’s condemnation. The two parties then go through meditation and finally to trial if a compromise price is not reached.
As of last week, the state had not condemned any of the remaining 11 plots. But, with similar-sized projects, N.C. DOT typically condemns two or three properties, Burch said.
Although negotiations have gone well so far, at least one business owner feels he is getting a raw deal from DOT.
Gary Lowe, who owns a Shoney’s franchise in Western North Carolina, spoke up at a recent Haywood County Chamber of Commerce breakfast and said not all business owners were satisfied with the amount the state was offering for their properties.
Lowe declined to comment specifically for this story and has hired Asheville attorney Bob Long to represent him during his negotiations with N.C. DOT. Long could not be reached for comment.
Lowe apparently has not found another location to move Shoney’s to, said Teddy Greene, a division agent with N.C. DOT’s right of way office.
“We hope they can find something close by,” Greene said.
But finding a comparable centrally-located site with the same visibility could prove a challenge.
By law, N.C. DOT is required to pay no less than market value for a property. However, during negotiations, land or business owners can haggle with the state and can make a case for why they deserve a higher price.
“I don’t want you to settle unless you feel like you are getting a fair price,” Greene said.
A few holdouts wanting further compensation are not indicative of the bunch. Most property owners walk away satisfied with their deal, Greene said.
“The property owners have all been positive in our acquisition,” he said.
Once the state gains ownership of a property, the inhabitants have at least 90 days to vacate it.
“But, we give more when we can,” Greene said.
Greene said he was optimistic that the department can secure all the necessary right of ways by June 2013 before the utility company starts moving its utility poles. Not having all the properties purchased could delay that process, Greene said.
Changes to the interchange
The estimated $24 million interchange redesign in Haywood County will focus on the side where Taco Bell, Burger King, Shoney’s and Shell gas station are located.
N.C. DOT plans to build a new, longer on-ramp heading toward Waynesville, which will give vehicles more time to gain speed before merging onto U.S. 74/23. Also, N.C. 209 in and around the interchange will be widened to alleviate a bottle-neck effect. A new train trestle will be built to accommodate the widening.
DOT also will shift Paragon Parkway, aligning the road with the on-ramp toward Waynesville to create a single intersection with a shared a stoplight. It will also move the Waynesville on-ramp and access road to Taco Bell farther apart. Right now, it can be hard to tell which is the access road and which is the on-ramp for the highway.