By Rich Heiland
Free Press Publications, LLC
For Walker County News Today
AT LEAST THREE Huntsville businesses could lose significant portions of their property to the next phase of the I-45 widening project through Huntsville.
B&B Properties, Charlie’s Used Cars and Kim’s Home and Garden Center, all on the east access road between 22ndStreet and 19thStreet could lose enough frontage to put their continued existence in peril. The former CP Electronics property also would lose significant frontage.
Whether the property would be taken by the Texas Department of Transportation or through eminent domain remains to be seen. A public notice for an Aug. 9 public hearing and open house at the Walker County Storm Shelter says around 11 acres of land will be needed along the project route.
Ben Bius, owner of B&B at 242 Interstate 45 South,said his property, and that of his wife Kim, will be impacted but he said he did not want to discuss it until he had more information.
“As of now, we just don’t know,” he said.
Tim Rushing, general manager at Charlie’s, confirmed the taking would cripple the long-time business.
“Basically, we would lose the first two-and-a-quarter rows of our autos in front of the building. It would come fairly close to the office building,” he said. He also said the business would go from two driveways off the access road to one.
But, like Bius, he said he feels somewhat in the dark about final plans. “No one has contacted us,” he said.
Charles Parks, who owns the CP property, said his take on the plans has the access road coming almost to the front door of his former business. That property does not appear to have any driveway entrances off the proposed access road. While Parks has closed the electronics business he still owns the property.
IT IS DIFFICULT at first glance to see where the new right of way line would be. However, a blow-up map done by Walker County News Today shows a faint blue line that agrees with where property owners think the line will go.
Looking at that line, the new right-of-way would run through the B&B Properties building. As Rushing noted, it would seriously lop off the front auto display lot for Charlies and continue past the front door ofthe former CP Electronics building.
When it gets to Kim’s Home and Garden Center it would run right up against the front of the building, probably making it unusable.
The maps also indicate some taking going from 19thto Highway 30 but not to the degree the businesses between 22ndand 19thwould be impacted. Also, some taking would be done on the west side of the highway, including a stretch from Home Depot to Office Depot. Bius also owns the vacant land between those two areas but it is undeveloped.
The big question facing property owners on the east side is how compensation would be figured. If the properties are rendered useless for the current business model would TXDOT buy the entire property?
TXDOT HAS well-defined processes and conditions for eminent domain if prices cannot be negotiated.
TXDOT is required to send a “Property Owners Bill of Rights” to any impacted landowners. Following that the condemning entity must make a good faith effort to purchase the property. If that does not lead to a deal, condemnation proceedings begin. This involves hearings before a judge as well as processes for the parties to try to resolve the dispute.
As a part of this process landowners can present evidence that their remaining property would have no value as a site for their business if the right-of-way property is lost. For instance, if Charlie’s business model is based on “X” number of units in car-truck inventory, then turning that inventory “X” times a year, the loss of significant display space could mean the remaining property would not support that model.
In the case of Kim’s, if the taking would result in loss of the building, would the remaining property support a new building, storage and parking? The hearing process is designed to sort out those sorts of issues.
In addition, TXDOT does offer some “damages” costs as well as relocation costs for businesses that do have to move to new locations as a result of the takings.
In the end the hearing panel will set a value and at that point the property owners can appeal.
At this point the phase to be discussed at the Aug. 9 hearing has not been funded. While funds reportedly are in escrow until all hearings and approvals have been signed off on, those funds won’t be released.
In the meantime, at least three long-time local business owners are left wondering what their futures might be, and where they might be lived out.
Rich Heiland is a former publisher of the Huntsville Item and owner of Free Press publications, LLC, a reporting/writing firm working with media. He has been a reporter, editor and publisher at several daily papers and part of a Pulitzer Prize winning team. He taught journalism at Western Illinois University. He can be reached email@example.com or 936-293-0293.