Elkhart County uses eminent domain to acquire property to widen County Road 10: South Bend IN Tribune, 12/18/06

By Adrienne Ruffner

Along County Road 10 in Elkhart, road plans for the future have caused heated debate in the present.

Because of heavy traffic flow, Elkhart County Commissioners Phil Stiver, Terry Rodino and Mike Yoder have decided they want to slightly reroute and widen CR 10 to a four-lane road between County Road 15 and County Road 17. The project is a precursor to construction on the Six-Span Bridge on CR 17.

"After studies of accidents in the area, it became obvious we needed to do something with the intersection at County Road 10 and County Road 17," said Jay Grossman, county project engineer.

However, the development plan selected will require the county to take 12 total properties and 23 partial properties, many of them private residences.

Earlier this year, commissioners considered four different proposals for the CR 10 corridor. Three of the plans, including Plan 4, the one chosen, involved widening the road in the Riverview Drive area, but another plan, called Plan 3, rerouted the road through farmland and involved taking fewer properties.

However, the road in Plan 3 would still cut through several residential lots and halve the property of First Baptist Church on CR 17.

Franklin Troyer, who lives near the rerouting but whose property will not be taken, argues that the government should use eminent domain to take land from private tax-payers only as a last resort. A better solution, he said, would be to take land from the church, which does not pay taxes, and the farmland, which is undeveloped.

"Why would you pick a route like that?" Troyer said. "This is not in the best interest of the public. It's the government at its worst."

In addition to his misgivings about the county's use of eminent domain, Troyer said, the county has not conducted sufficient environmental studies of the impacted area.

"All the runoff water has to go somewhere, and they've never done a study," he said.

Grossman said specific environmental studies are usually not included this early in the planning process.

"We know we have to deal with the water, but we won't know specifics until after we survey the land in January," he said.

With the project's estimated $8.6 million price tag, the county may have to reallocate some funds from other projects or delay construction for an additional six to eight years, Grossman said. He estimated that the project could begin as soon as 2008.

"They're supposed to buy my house and my neighbor's house, but now I've heard it's going to be a few years," said Shirley Sanders, who lives along CR 10.

Other neighbors also said they'd heard of the project but didn't know the details about what was going to happen to their property.

"I haven't heard anything from the county except what I've read in the paper," said Penny Larson, whose house and property on CR 10 are slated to be acquired by the county.

"They won't receive anything from us until we're at least 80 percent done with the designs and know exactly what land we need," Grossman said. "Our department has a good history of doing our best to treat everyone fairly."

Once the county determines exactly what its design plans are, Grossman said, appraisers would visit the properties and will then set up individual meetings with homeowners.

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