ST. GEORGE – If the Bluff Street expansion is approved by the Federal Highway Administration, what can business and property owners along Bluff Street expect when UDOT starts acquiring land?
One of the primary concerns raised by residents at the Feb. 15 public comment meeting of the Bluff Street project was the potential damage to local businesses that would be affected.
“I hate the idea of eliminating businesses to widen the road,” said Maureen Booth, one of the many residents who spoke in opposition to the proposed improvements to Bluff Street.
Whether or not the Federal Highway Administration approves the Bluff Street expansion in part, in whole, or not at all, remains to be seen. Should it be given the FHWA’s stamp of approval, however, UDOT will begin sending notices to the owners of affects properties and businesses once funding is procured and a construction date is finalized.
Craig Fox works for UDOT’s Right of Way Division and was present at the public hearing, yet did not address the crowd due to the meeting’s being exclusively tailored to gathering public input. Like the majority of the Bluff Street project team, Fox mingled with the crowd and answered questions residents had concerning property acquisition and eminent domain.
“UDOT has the right of right of way and eminent domain,” Fox said.
Acquiring the needed real estate
Once a road project is approved, UDOT will send written notices to the affected parties 90 days before a required moving date.
Target properties are subsequently appraised, typically by third-party appraisers hired by UDOT, Fox said, and their estimates are sent in for review. It will then be determined whether the entire property needs to be purchased, or if only a portion is needed. This factor is dependent upon how much the overall property will be affected by the public project.
UDOT then makes an offer based on the fair market value of the property – often referred to as just compensation – to the owner. At this point the owner has the right to either accept the offer or enter into a state of negotiation with UDOT.
As noted in a brochure concerning property acquisitions supplied by UDOT to property owners, an individual also has the right to have just compensation determined by a court, jury, arbitration, or mediation.
Should a property owner refuse to accept UDOT’s offer, UDOT will access its right of eminent domain.
However, Fox said the exercise of eminent domain must first be approved through a court order. If a court order is approved and the target property is acquired, the owner is still paid just compensation which is based on UDOT’s initial offer.
Relocation and displacement assistance
Fox said that UDOT recognizes individuals, families and businesses will be displaced by the acquisition of properties and that the cost of relocation can be a strain on the resources of the same. To help ease the transition of moving a family, or moving a business, UDOT has a system in place that provides a measure relocation and financial aid.
“We help pay for relocation by covering moving expenses,” Fox said.
Specifically, UDOT will reimburse what it considers to be reasonable moving costs. For families, this may include such items as:
- Packing and unpacking personal property
- Disconnecting and reconnecting household appliances
- Temporary storage of personal property
- Insurance while property is in storage or transit
- Transfer of telephone service and other similar utility reconnections
Reimbursements will be limited to those relocations which are within a 50-mile distance in most cases.
UDOT can also help displaced families find a replacement home that is considered safe and sanitary and is reasonably close to places of employment and public services.
Displaced businesses – of which there will be several if the Bluff Street expansion receives federal approval – also have the right to receive assistance. As outlined in the Executive Summary of Property Owner’s Rights, UDOT will help identify “replacement properties available on the private market located within UDOT’s jurisdiction, if [the property owner’s] small business or farm is displaced by the project.”
Again, associated moving costs may be reimbursed.
More detailed information concerning UDOT’s relocation assistance programs can be found on the Right of Way section of UDOT’s website.
Might happen, might not
Kevin Kitchen, a spokesman for UDOT’s Region 4 (south and central Utah), said it could take a handful of years before ground was broken on the Bluff Street project, and that would be only after it gained approval from the FWHA.
“It could take between three to five years [for construction to get started],” Kitchen said.
According to the Bluff Street Study’s website, a finalized proposal – complete with the public comments made in the Feb. 15 meeting – will be sent to the FHWA in April. There is no determined timeline of when the proposal will be accepted or rejected. And even with approval, it will take additional time to secure the project’s funding and overall priority.
Property owners along Bluff Street may not see acquisition notices until 2015 at the earliest. The wait will be even longer if five years passes without breaking ground. At that point, Kitchen said UDOT would have to revise the project’s Environmental Assessment, and that process could take an additional year.
Public comments still being accepted
Whether people are for or against the Bluff Street expansion, they still have an opportunity to send their comments to UDOT during the remainder of the public comment period, even if they missed the Feb. 15 meeting.
Public comments can be sent to:
- Bluff Street Study, care of H.W. Lochner
- 1245 East Brickyard Road, Suite 400
- Salt Lake City, UT 84106
- Email: [email protected]
- Phone: 801-859-3770.
The public comment period ends March 2, 2012.
There are no additional public meetings scheduled.
Copyright 2012 St. George News