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Commissioners balk at price for easements near mall

Intersection improvement project would widen intersection of Halfway and Massey boulevards

Intersection improvement project would widen intersection of Halfway and Massey boulevards

October 27, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- A proposal to spend an additional $216,100 on easements for an intersection improvement project near Valley Mall failed to gain approval Tuesday from the Washington County Commissioners.

The easements are needed to make room for construction equipment during a project to widen the intersection of Halfway and Massey boulevards, Deputy Director of Public Works Robert J. Slocum said.

The $7.4 million project will expand the congested intersection to have double left-turn lanes, double through lanes and single right-turn lanes in all directions, Slocum said. It will also add sidewalks around the intersection, he said.

In July, the commissioners approved spending $597,150 to buy about half an acre of right-of-way land for the intersection from the neighboring Dollar Tree, Hagerstown Ford and Motel 6 properties and establish temporary easements on those three properties.

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The additional easements considered Tuesday were to allow temporary use of narrow roadside strips of the Valley Mall property, owned by Philadelphia Real Estate Investment Trust, and the Valley Plaza Shopping Center, which is anchored by a Kmart and is owned by Cedar Shopping Centers Inc., Washington County Real Property Administrator Joe Kuhna said.

After those easements are approved, only one more acquisition will be necessary, Kuhna said.

Kuhna proposed paying $101,600 for a 24,821-square-foot temporary easement and a 1,267-square-foot permanent easement on the mall property and $114,500 for a 17,478-square-foot temporary easement and a 5,925-square-foot permanent easement on the Valley Plaza property. Those property values were established by appraisals, Kuhna said.

Commissioner William J. Wivell said the prices seemed too high.

"My issue is with the $100,000 for a temporary easement," Wivell said. "I think this benefits the Valley Mall as much as anyone."

Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire said he thought that in the future, when appraising right-of-way acquisitions and easements, the county should take into consideration the improved access the county was providing to the respective businesses and the fact that the easements "really are slivers of the roadside that have no useful purpose."

However, Aleshire said he understood staff's desire to move forward on the Halfway and Massey intersection project and the implications of not doing so.

Slocum said the project had been approved for more than $2 million worth of state and federal grants, which he was concerned the county might lose if it delayed the project too long.

In addition, public works staff hope to advertise the project this winter and begin construction in the spring so the work can wrap up before the November shopping season begins, Slocum said.

When Aleshire made a motion to approve the easements, none of the other commissioners supported it. The motion died for lack of a second.

Slocum said after the meeting that he planned to return to the commissioners at a future meeting to try to address their concerns about the easement prices. As planned, the project cannot be completed without the proposed easements, he said.

In the meantime, Slocum said staff would continue to move on the project as much as they could with utility work and other preparations.

"I think we can get back to the commissioners and satisfy their needs to assure them that their concerns will be addressed before we lose any time on the project," he said.

Slocum said he understood the commissioners' perspective that the county should not pay as much to use a business's land when it is making improvements that will benefit that business.

"On the other hand, we can't lose sight that this is real property that these people own, so we need to work as fairly as we possibly can with them in a cooperative spirit to get the project done where it's going to benefit both them and the county," he said.

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