However, it turns out that the actual list is unchanged from that released in 2018.
“In my slide discussing estimated ROW (right of way) impacts, it listed 39 businesses being taken,” District Engineer Brian Burch said in an email sent to the county manager’s office Friday, July 26. “This number was based on an estimate that we had received in Division 14 from our Appraisal Unit. This is actually the number of parcels containing businesses that may be relocated. The actual number of businesses on those 39 parcels is 55.”
In his presentation July 23, Burch had made it clear that businesses included on the current list are unlikely to be taken off of it, and that new businesses could be added once utility plans are finalized. The same is still true, he said in an email to SMN July 31.
“I would not expect the businesses already on the list to be removed once the utility easements are added to the plans,” he wrote. “It is also likely that additional businesses will be added to the list due to the utility easements.”
The DOT has completed its 65 percent complete plans, but those plans do not yet include utility easements. The easements are expected to be added within the next few weeks, Burch said.
The 55 businesses represent about one-sixth of Sylva’s business community, a significant chunk of the town’s economy. But, said Burch, being on the list for relocation does not necessarily mean that a business will be forced to move. The DOT puts businesses on the relocation list when it determines that property will be impacted to the point that the business located there can no longer operate as it currently does.
“During right of way negotiations, property owners and tenants may have the option to modify their property or structure to make it a viable location to conduct commercial activities,” he said in an email.
The N.C. 107 project has elicited strong feelings and outright ire from some community members since preliminary plans were unveiled last year, and some business owners are taking issue with another aspect of the relocation list — beside each business name, the DOT includes an estimate of the number of people employed there. The total for the 55 businesses is 189 employees.
“Looking at those numbers I would say they underestimated by half,” said Charlie Schmidt, general manager at Speedy’s Pizza. Speedy’s is on the list for relocation.
The DOT lists Speedy’s as employing eight people. However, Schmidt said there are actually 28 people who work there, about 15 of whom are full-timers.
“Half are part-time college students, but they have a job for a reason,” he said. “They need money for something.”
Similarly, Sylva Family Chiropractic said they have four employees — three full-time and one part-time — despite being listed as employing two, and Shed’s Hunting Supply said they have three full-time and two part-time employees, yet were listed as having three workers.
David Uchiyama, communications manager for DOT’s western region, said the numbers might not be accurate because they’re based on “very casual observations.” The DOT employee coming up with the numbers might just drive by, or they might walk in to grab a cup of coffee or a slice of pizza, thus garnering a closer look.
“The estimates are off because they’re not needed,” said Uchiyama. “They’re not a critical component of any of the paperwork at this stage.”
They won’t likely be deemed important later, either, he said, as the Federal Highway Administration doesn’t require employment estimates.