Family prepares to fight RTD: Denver CO Mile-High News, 10/11/07

Couple's business and home are slated for condemnation for West Corridor light rail

By Jennifer Gilbert

Galen Foster and his wife, Kim Snyder, have owned and operated Pro-Window Tint for 23 years while living in the attached house off 14th and Wadsworth. The couple received a letter of notice from the Regional Transportation District informing them that their property has been chosen for condemnation to make room for the West Corridor light rail.

They were eagerly anticipating the chance to turn their property at 1398 Wadsworth Blvd. into a retail space that they could rent out after their retirement.

Now, the couple is trying to hang on to the house and shop they do have. Foster and Snyder have lived in the ranch home and owned the attached Pro-Tint Window Tinting for 23 years.

They received a letter from the Regional Transportation District on Sept. 28 informing them that their property was one of 18 being condemned in the first round of eminent domain proceedings for the $635 million West Corridor light rail.

"If somebody would have just called, one human being to another, it would have been different," Snyder said. "We were absolutely blind sided. Up until a month before, they were telling me, 'We don't know what we're going to do.'"

RTD sent out 16 letters of intent in its two first batches, and eight properties were in Lakewood. Spokeswoman Pauletta Tonilas said RTD expects to send 50 total letters to property owners from Denver to Golden by December.

"These are notice of intent letters," Tonilas said. "We identified these in the environmental assessment process as properties we would likely need for the project. Engineers do the design and certify the properties we actually need."

When Snyder called RTD, she was informed her property would be necessary for staging purposes, but it would not be used for a station or parking. Tonilas said each property acquisition is unique, with some being used for sidewalks, stations, parking and other related needs.

Snyder and Foster had been eager for the light rail and the renewal it would bring, hoping it would allow them to realize their new retail space.

The couple has hired a lawyer before the first appraisal of their property, trying to save their house and business from being leveled for preconstruction staging projects.

"This isn't about stopping light rail, and this isn't about stopping eminent domain," Snyder said. "I'm an intelligent woman. I understand RTD will need to use eminent domain.

It's about stopping the expanding rights RTD and the government have over individuals and their property because of the abuse of eminent domain."

RTD informed property owners in its letters that RTD will have companies hired by RTD appraise properties. It will also pay for an independent appraisal chosen by the property owner.

Property owners have 90 days from the date of the letter, Sept. 26 for Snyder and Foster, to get their own appraisals.

Bonnie Roerig is one of the appraisers hired by RTD. She also did appraisals on the properties in the Solterra Development.

She said a major part of her company's appraisals are eminent domain condemnation properties.

"Our goal is to establish a property value that is fair to the property owners and taxpayers of Colorado," Roerig said. "That RTD is the client has nothing to do with my appraisal. … It's my opinion based on available, factual market value. It's not intended to please anybody else."

The problem for Snyder and Foster is that they do not want to sell. As Snyder pet Zoe, one of their two rescued Doberman pinchers, she said she and her husband were not hiring an attorney to get more money.

She and Foster's shop, totem poles and all, has become a landmark in the city at the corner of 14th Street and Wadsworth.

"This is about me, my home, my family, my rescued Dobermans," Snyder said. "We're part of this community."

The community has shown an outpouring of support for the couple. Everyday, at least one informational packet, attorney recommendation or caring message comes from someone.

Friends are holding a bake sale for the couple at the shop on Saturday, Oct. 13, to raise funds for the legal fees.

"We'll never find another space where we can have a beautiful home attached to a business," Snyder said. "I don't feel that at this point in our life we should have to make this decision and start over at another location."

Tonilas said the RTD engineers evaluated the best possible route to acquire the fewest number of properties necessary along the route.

The Pro-Tint store is the No. 1 tinting business in Colorado of its size and the No. 6 business of its size in the nation.

"Everything is corporate, and nothing is for the little guy anymore," Foster said. "We as a community can take these big corporations and put them back in their place."

Construction for the West Corridor is slated to begin in January of 2008. Foster and Snyder will continue to work at Pro-Tint and live in the accompanying house throughout the legal proceedings.

Denver CO Mile-High News: http://www.milehighnews.com