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Expropriated: Residents lose property in Bangerter Highway project

Feb 27, 2017 09:13AM ● Published by Tori LaRue

The mailbox is all that remains of the home located at 3740 Alveron Drive. The home was one of the 96 to be fully acquired by the Utah Department of Transportation as the department works to change certain intersections at Bangerter Highway into freeway-style interchanges. (Tori La Rue/City Journals)

Gallery: Expropriated: Residents lose property in Bangerter Highway project [7 Images] Click any image to expand.

By Tori La Rue | tori@mycityjournals.com
 
The 2017 Bangerter Highway project to create freeway-style interchanges at four intersections may alleviate major southwestern traffic congestion in the county, but it doesn’t come without a cost.
 
The $208 million project will displace 96 homeowners and two businesses as the land is used to make way for the expanded interchanges at 5400 South, 7000 South, 9000 South and 11400 South. The Utah Department of Transportation will also acquire parts of nearly 100 additional properties.
 
“We take property acquisitions very seriously,” said UDOT spokesman John Gleason. “It is the toughest part of our job, and we do it as a last resort. With Bangerter and all the development around it, there’s no other place for it to expand in these areas. These (acquisitions) were absolutely necessary to finish the project.”
 
The Heffron story: Moving after 30 years
 
Holly Heffron and her husband lived in their home at 5498 South Alveron Drive in Taylorsville for 30 years—all of their married lives—and never planned to leave, but that changed when they learned Bangerter Highway’s expansion would take over their property.
 
“You don’t think it will happen to you,” said Holly Heffron whose home backed the eastern side of Bangerter’s sound wall. “Even when I knew they were going to do something to Bangerter, it didn’t cross my mind that my house would be affected. Then all a sudden someone was telling us ‘Brace yourself; you guys are moving.’”
 
While waiting for the Utah Department of Transportation to appraise her home, Heffron began casually looking for homes online. She said she “accidentally” found the home of her dreams near 9000 South and 4800 West in West Jordan over Independence Day weekend and made an offer. The owners accepted her offer, but the deal was contingent on the price UDOT would pay for her home.
 
Heffron described the next couple months as “nerve-racking.”
 
“UDOT representatives were great to work with, but that may have been because I was continually bugging them and calling them for updates,” she said.
 
The initial price tag on the Heffron home wasn’t as high as Heffron thought her house could sell for on the market, but UDOT tacked a “relocation fee” onto the check, which allowed Heffron to purchase the West Jordan house. She said it worked out to where she could close on both homes on the same day.  
 
Although overjoyed about the new house, the switch didn’t come without emotional tugging, Heffron added. She and her husband drove by the site of their decades-long home around Christmas time, finding window frames missing and holes in the ceiling in their old house. Her neighbor’s house was completely missing.
 
“That was a really weird feeling, but I think I’ve gotten over that,” Heffron said ““Moving is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I think we are better off for it. I like my new home so much better.”
 
The Brusch story: When UDOT won’t buy a house
 
While things worked out well for Heffron, she acknowledged that many others didn’t have a good experience with the state’s use of eminent domain. One of her friends isn’t losing property, but will likely lose home value, Heffron said. The home, which used to face hers will soon face Bangerter’s sound wall.
 
“I think the people who have to stay have it worse off,” she said.
 
Melissa Brusch agrees. UDOT is taking eight and a half feet of her family’s backyard near the 9000 South/Bangerter Highway intersection for the project, and she said she’s not happy about it. 
 
“We wanted to be bought out, but they wouldn’t let us,” Brusch said. “They said they don’t have the funds, but we just don’t want to deal with it.”
 
While UDOT tries to take personal interests into account when making the home purchases, the department also needs to think what will be best for the community, Gleason said, adding that there’s a certain set of criteria that must usually be met before a house will be purchased.
 
The Brusches said they didn’t mind that the home backed Bangerter Highway when they bought it seven years ago, but bringing the sound wall eight feet closer to the house could be a deal-breaker for the young family.
 
“I have little ones, and I want them to be able to play outside,” Brush said. “The yard will be smaller, and the on-ramp will be right in our backyard. There will be more noise and pollution, and I don’t want my kids to breathe that in.”
 
Brusch said she and her husband haven’t decided whether they will put their house up for sale but are considering all options.
 
“UDOT said we won’t be affected by the value, but if it’s really going to be a freeway-style, the home won’t be as desirable,” Brusch said. “The house across the street took a huge hit because of the project, so I don’t know if I want to get lowballed out there and lose money.”
 
Brush said she’s still contacting UDOT to get an appraisal on her home to find out how much they’d pay for the property.
 
“I’m still trying,” she said. “I just think everyone should have the option to get bought out.”
 
The Erdmann Story: Expropriation—a convenient way to sell
 
Brusch’s neighbor, Amanda Erdmann, had better luck getting UDOT to purchase her home.
 
Erdmann’s husband had moved to Oklahoma for work, so she’d already hired a real estate agent to sell her home when UDOT notified residents they were looking to acquire homes within the neighborhood.
 
Erdmann immediately contacted UDOT and told them of her situation. She said she “fought hard” to be bought out, and UDOT agreed.
 
“We were a different situation where we lucked out,” Erdmann said. “UDOT was easier than if we would have sold our house the other way. We didn’t have to pay Relator fees or closing costs—they just showed up with the offer, but I know it wasn’t like that for a lot of other people.”
 
The Jensen Story: Unable to build
 
People started asking Kenzie Jensen when she was moving out of her home at 11163 South Tippecanoe Way. That’s how she said she learned UDOT was collecting properties through eminent domain. 
 
“I was just shocked,” she said. “I was never contacted. I had to be the one to contact UDOT myself.”
 
An appraiser came to look at Jensen’s home and told her how much they’d pay her to leave her home. Jensen said it’s hard to leave because she loves the area but said she’s mostly frustrated because she wasn’t given a definite timeline.
 
“I would have liked to build my own home, but they took so long to give me a timeline that I had to buy a home that was already built,” Jensen said.
 
Jensen’s house, along with many in her neighborhood, was only seven years old. She and her neighbors voiced concerns that UDOT should have known about the acquisition process long before their homes were built and stopped development from occurring.
 
Future Acquisitions
 
While UDOT does have a long-range transportation plan that extends until 2040, Gleason said the department doesn’t always know which homes will be affected.
 
“We do our best to preserve right of way, but without environmental study process, we don’t know where the improvements will go or where alignments will be,” he said. “For the four new interchanges we started that process on December 2015, and we worked with the cities to prevent additional development or construction at that time, but until the environment process is complete, we don’t know where the improvements will go.”
 
Gleason suggests homebuyers check UDOT’s long-term plan before making a home purchase to discover if there’s a chance that their home could be acquired in a similar process. The long-term plan is found on the department’s website in map form separated by region.
 
Because housing developments and businesses are sprouting along the sides of the Mountain View Corridor, many residents affected by the Bangerter project have expressed concerns that a similar acquisition process will need to occur when that road expands.
 
Joe Kammerer, project director for the Mountain View Corridor, said it’s not likely that eminent domain will be utilized to the same extent along the new western highway. Mountain View Corridor was built with the outside lanes first to preserve the right of way, he said. When that road expands, it will fill in inside lanes using the right of way they’ve already acquired, he said. 
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