Quick U.S. 340 decision sought

CHARLES TOWN – Residents from three areas that could face potential land and home seizures as a part of the four-lane expansion of U.S. 340 disagree about where the road ought to go, but are virtually unanimous in demanding that the Division of Highways come to a decision on the road’s precise path soon.

[cleeng_content id="215479253" description="Read it now!" price="0.15" t="article"]Under the current plan, a “record of decision,” an official document that is the outcome of an environmental study required before construction can begin, is not due to be entered until sometime in 2015, however. This uncertainty has left many of them unable to sell, refinance or improve upon their properties, they say.

Around 100 residents turned out for a public hearing to receive input on the proposed expansion on Monday night at Page Jackson Elementary School.

There are currently three main proposed corridors through that the road could run. The Alternative 4 corridor includes a variety of proposed paths running in areas slightly east of the current path of U.S. 340. Many of these could severely impact the nearby Ryan’s Glen subdivision, which was approved by the Planning Commission in 2005, well after the DOH had published possible maps of routes indicating that the area could be in the path of the expansion.

The Alternative 10 corridor includes includes two possible routes that would break far to the west and run along the path of the nearby CSX railroad. They would also impact a large number of homes and properties along Allen Lane. One of these would involve building two bridges across the railroad, and the other would involve moving the rail bed. These routes would therefore be between $10 million and $30 million more expensive than other routes.

The Alternative 11 roadway would swing well to the west, avoiding historic properties but cutting through local farmers’ fields. It could also impact some properties in Ryan’s Glen.

Several speakers from the Allen family, whose farm would be severely impacted by alternatives in the western corridor, spoke in opposition to moving the route away from the currently-approved Alternative 4.

Fourteen-year old Anna Allen pointed out that the Alternative 4 had been chosen as the preferred option a decade ago.

“Unfortunately, the construction was delayed long enough for a misinformed opportunist to enter our county and build a housing development directly in the way of the planned 340 route,” said Anna Allen. “Many families now live in this development, known as Ryan’s Glen. Due to this new group of innocent people and other arising issues, the plan for U.S. 340 has come up again.”

Louis Allen pointed out that much of their family farm had to be sold to pay inheritance taxes after his grandmother’s death. “Does anyone really own anything in this country anymore? We just rent it from the government,” he said.

He also attacked the Planning Commission and the developers of Ryan’s Glen for seeking and approving a subdivision in the published path of a new road.

“The former owner of what’s now Ryan’s Glen sold out and moved to Florida,” Louis Allen said. “Then someone decided it’d be OK to build a bunch of big houses there. Whoever made that decision has to have a bad taste in their mouth after kissing all that Lou Athey and Dan Ryan backside.”

Lou Athey, who also attended and spoke at the meeting, rejected comments made against him and blamed the DOH for the problem.

“I’m disappointed that the facts of the situation didn’t come out the way they should have,” Athey said. “The blame lies with the DOH. They had to issue entrance permits, and they never said a word about it.”

Athey said he did not remember resident Glen Hetzel warning him, Dan Ryan Builders and the Planning Commission about the possible conflict at a 2005 hearing, though records of the hearing show that he did.

Hetzel also spoke at the meeting Monday.

Franklin Adams, one of the farmers whose land could be impacted by the easternmost corridor, spoke out at the meeting as well.

“Everyday we read (about) productive farm land is disappearing at an alarming rate,” Adams said. “The proposed route (11) would split a 30-acre field and a 15-acre woodlot down through the middle.”

Adams said the route would leave his pasture land on one side of the road and his animals’ water source on the other.

“Everyone is concerned that their home (is in) the path of progress,” Adams said. “Well, I’m here to tell you: my land is my home.”

Ryan’s Glen resident Mike Brust said that residents of the subdivision were duped into believing their properties were safe when they bought them.

“I was absolutely assured from the beginning of the process … that nothing was ever going to be done to disturb my property,” he said. “I want to assure everyone that has been living here all of their lives that we did not come in here to cause a problem. We never even know this was going to happen.”

He said he would be willing to move away and have the road seize his home if he could receive the amount he bought the house for in return. Unfortunately, he said, the bursting of the housing bubble lowered his property value, and so if he only received current fair market value in exchange for the seizure of his home, he would be left badly in debt.

“If you buy out my house for the purchase price, I’ll be glad to go,” he said.

He emphasized that the residents of Ryan’s Glen did not want any one else to lose their homes either.

He hoped his neighbors did not see them as the “bad guys,” he said.

The room warmly applauded his statements.

John Maxey, a local activist and former member of the Planning Commission who has been highly critical of the decision to approve Ryan’s Glen, said the decision has had sweeping detrimental impacts on the community.

“The lack of a record of decision on the part of DOH is absolutely no excuse for the Jefferson County Planning Commission’s complete failure (to deny) Mr. Athey’s subdivision at Oakhill as well as at Ryan’s Glen,” he said. “Glen Hetzel showed up at the public hearing in 2005 and clearly told the Planning Commission that the highway routes had been planned to go through that parcel. He was ignored.”

He added that the DOH has been much too slow to make a final decision on the route.

“Many of the same people that are here tonight were also here 10 years ago,” Maxey said. “We’re still here. No decision has been made.”

“What we are doing by having this hang over everyone’s head is turning neighbors against each other unnecessarily and actually depriving them of the full use of their property. We have landowners and farmers that are unable to put in fence lines, sheds, barns. They can’t plan. They can’t really use their property. We have homeowners that are unable to move, unable to refinance their homes. Everything is completely up in the air.”

“Move rapidly toward a record of decision or, if there is no funding available, abandon the project,” he said.[/cleeng_content]

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