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2017-11-29 / Front Page

County contacts residents in path of planned road

BY JIM McCONNELL STAFF WRITER

Johnnie Humphrey had a surprise waiting for her when she returned home from a trip to Durham, North Carolina, two days before Thanksgiving.

It wasn’t an early Christmas gift, though. It was a voicemail message from Jesse Smith, director of the county’s Transportation Department, informing Humphrey that she would be contacted soon by KDR Real Estate Services, the company handling the relocation of Chester residents whose properties lie in the proposed path of the East-West Freeway.

Jesse Smith, director of the county’s Transportation Department, said he called affected homeowners to be proactive so they weren’t contacted by the relocation specialist first.  ASH DANIELJesse Smith, director of the county’s Transportation Department, said he called affected homeowners to be proactive so they weren’t contacted by the relocation specialist first. ASH DANIEL“Nothing has been finalized at this point. I just wanted to put you in touch with the relocation specialist,” Smith said in the voicemail message, which Humphrey replayed for the Observer during an interview last Friday afternoon.

Humphrey, a 74-yearold widow, still lives in the Happy Hill Road home she and her late husband built in 1967. Her parents gave the young couple 5.7 acres of land, where they raised their children. She has no interest in moving and is “sad and angry” that the county plans to take her home and demolish it to make way for a new road.

“I think something very underhanded is going on and people need to know about it,” Humphrey said.

Officials with the county’s Economic Development Authority have characterized construction of the first 2½-mile stretch of the East-West Freeway as critical to their plan to develop an industrial megasite on 1,675 acres south of state Route 10.

The EDA hopes to lure a large industrial manufacturer, such as an automobile or aerospace company, and needs the new road to link the megasite with the interstate highway system.

But as Chester residents await the Board of Supervisors’ ruling on the EDA’s application to rezone the residential property for industrial use, Humphrey was surprised to learn the county’s Transportation Department is moving forward with the road regardless of the outcome of the zoning case.

Smith noted in an interview Monday afternoon that the Transportation Department hopes to receive approval from the federal government on its preferred alignment for the East-West Freeway by spring 2018, at which point it would seek permission from the Board of Supervisors to begin acquiring right-of-way for the project. Should the county be unable to agree on a purchase price with individual property owners, it will ask the board to initiate the process of eminent domain.

“Everything we’re doing now is due diligence,” Smith said.

The East-West Freeway has been included in the county’s Thoroughfare Plan, which guides future roadway construction, since the late 1980s. The plan envisions the freeway ultimately extending from Interstate 95 in Walthall to U.S. Route 360 west of Grange Hall Elementary, where it would connect with the proposed Powhite Parkway extension to create a 30-mile corridor for new commercial and residential development.

Chesterfield leaders see that corridor as a way to bring balance to the county’s tax base, which is overly reliant on residential property taxes to fund local government services.

Chester resident Mike Uzel, a leader of the citizen group Bermuda Advocates for Responsible Development (BARD), which opposes both the megasite and the related roadway project, doesn’t think the government should be able to seize private property to support a speculative business venture that may never pan out.

“I guess the county is moving forward by trying to scare people into thinking they have no choice but to sell. That’s not right,” he said.

Smith said he called Humphrey and other affected homeowners to be proactive and make sure they weren’t contacted by the relocation specialist without first hearing from the county. He acknowledged in retrospect, however, that leaving voicemails was probably a bad idea.

“I should’ve made sure I talked to a live person,” he added.

After Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced in late August the county’s plan to develop the megasite, Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Dorothy Jaeckle lamented the fact that the county hadn’t been more aggressive in acquiring right-of-way for the East-West Freeway as citizens put their properties on the market.

She reiterated that stance in an interview Monday morning, noting that negotiating with willing sellers is preferable because “it takes the emotion out of the process.”

Humphrey left no doubt that she is emotionally invested in keeping her property.

“This is the kind of thing that takes away your confidence in elected officials,” she said. “I think they are not looking out for our best interests.” ¦

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