DOH asked to alter road

CHARLES TOWN – Residents of the Ryan’s Glen subdivision say they support the four-lane expansion of the southern section of U.S. 340. They just don’t want to see it built through their neighborhood.

“We want everyone to know that nobody in our community is anti-340,” said Ryan’s Glen Homeowners Association media spokesman Mike Brust. “Ultimately (the expansion of 340) will be a very good thing for Jefferson County. It is clearly needed.”

A committee formed by homeowners’ association members to address the road’s expansion has met with local lawmakers and other officials over the last two weeks, but Brust said they are currently focused on registering public comments with the Division of Highways in the hope that it will cause that office to reconsider its current plan.

In the meantime, the Jefferson County Commission has demanded better communication between state highway officials and local planners in the wake of the revelation two weeks ago when, at a meeting convened by DOH officials to receive public input on their plans, many Ryan’s Glen homeowners learned that many of their homes could be subject to government seizure to make way for the highway. At last week’s meeting, the County Commission unanimously agreed to send a letter authored by Commissioner Lyn Widmyer to the DOH, asking them to improve their communications with local planning staff to help prevent a repeat occurrence of eminent domain issues.

The Ryan’s Glen subdivision was initially approved in 2006, with a second phase that added three homes in 2010. These approvals came despite the fact that the plans for the expansion of 340 had been made public in 2003, leading many homeowners to question why the subdivision was approved in the first place.

Audio recordings of the Planning Commission meeting where the subdivision was approved show that the commission was warned by a local citizen that the expansion of 340 would likely impact new homes in the subdivision.

Brust hopes the DOH will take citizens’ comments seriously and reconsider the current proposed routes, all of which would involve the use of eminent domain to seize and demolish homes in Ryan’s Glen.

“What we are asking them to do is just revisit things, simply because of the age of the material that they are using,” he said. “A lot of their information was outdated. We certainly don’t think that was intentional at all, it just wasn’t current information.”

Brust said any property owners who might be affected by the Rippon Bypass should send public comments to the DOH on its website before the Oct. 24 deadline. “We’re taking advantage of the comment period, and hopefully enough comments come in that they will want to revisit it.”

One consideration that will likely complicate the proposal is the rich history of the area surrounding Rippon.

The existing stretch of U.S. 340 near the border with Virginia is bounded to the west by the Bullskin Run Rural Historic District and to the east by the Kabletown Rural Historic District, and a number of nearby properties are individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Nearby historical properties were a central consideration when the original list of nine possible routes was narrowed down to one in 2003, DOH officials said at last month’s meeting.

Brust, a longtime member of the Civil War Trust, says he too realizes the importance of historic preservation. He adds, however, that historical preservation needs to be carefully weighed against the interests of existing homeowners.

“Being a student of history my entire life, I certainly understand that historical preservation is required,” he said. “Hopefully there is a way for both sides to win.”

Brust said he hopes DOH officials will reconsider some of the routes they previously abandoned and potentially draw up new alternatives that could achieve the smallest possible impact on exiting communities.

Debbie Wilson, a Ryan’s Glen homeowner, went further in her criticism of the failure of government entities to protect homeowners.

“The Planning Commission knowingly approved the Ryan’s Glen subdivision in the path of Route 340, and now six years later our homeowners were put at risk,” Wilson said. “This was a public dereliction of duty by our planning commission, and they should make it right. I think they need to be held to account.”

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