'Get a lawyer': PennDOT's I-83 eminent domain offers spark backlash

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
A proposed widening project for Interstate 83 may end up consuming part of Fayfield Park in Springettsbury Township. Plans include widening a five mile stretch from four lanes to eight. Tuesday, May 7, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo

A former Manchester Township resident is advising property owners to lawyer up after her home was taken through eminent domain for the Interstate 83 widening project.

The state Department of Transportation made an offer to Rebecca Chisholm in February, but it wasn't enough for her to purchase a comparable property, she said.

She said she's still exhausted, describing her experience as emotionally draining and difficult.

"Get a lawyer now," Chisholm recommended to others in the area.

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Chisholm, who now lives in a Harrisburg condominium, was offered $139,000 for her home, which is worth an estimated $152,475, according to the real estate website Redfin. 

She reluctantly took the deal, which resulted in her leaving her 1,200-square-foot home at 261 Point Circle. The offer did not match the cost of a comparable property, she said.

That's a common problem for homeowners, according to eminent domain attorneys who spoke to The York Dispatch in the past.

Chisholm consulted an attorney for answers as to why her neighbors seemed to have gotten better offers, but she was told there was no wrongdoing on PennDOT's part, she said.

"I do not know their specific numbers, but part of the disparity certainly comes from the fact they allowed PennDOT to do its comparable value analysis," read a letter from her lawyer dated April 23.

The attorney was referring to other neighbors who waited to move until the analysis was conducted. The analysis allows PennDOT to calculate a supplemental payment in addition to its offer on a home to make up for cost differences for a comparable location.

The former Manchester Township home of Rebecca Chisholm. The house was taken through eminent domain for the Interstate 83 widening project.

In Chisholm's case, the situation may have been worsened by the fact that she found a replacement home before PennDOT conducted an analysis of how much relocation assistance would be provided, according to the attorney.

She was offered $7,200 in relocation aid, which is the lowest amount of money that can be awarded. A neighbor of hers, on the other hand, received $22,000, she said.

"I'm worn out," Chisholm said.

'Unacceptable': Nicole Hess, who was a neighbor of Chisholm, had different qualms about her experience with PennDOT. In an email correspondence, she declined to say how much money she received from the department for her home.

She emphasized that, unlike some others who will have their homes taken, she is grateful she had expendable income that allowed her to move without issue.

However, she said, the way PennDOT has treated property owners impacted by the project is unacceptable.

Hess said she had to pay the mortgage on both of her homes after initially moving but never received reimbursement for most of her interest costs.

It wasn't until state Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, intervened that the issue was resolved and she was paid, she said,

"I understand eminent domain happens, and I was willing to cooperate," Hess said.   "PennDOT's disregard of peoples' financial status and mental health is unacceptable."

Acquisitions: Chisholm also alleged that PennDOT is "lying like crazy" about the rate at which it's acquiring properties, as she knows of several residents who have received offers.

A PennDOT spokesperson previously told The York Dispatch that offers had only been made on homes impacted by preliminary projects that are slated to be completed in 2022. There are three early-action items in the project: the widening of North Hills Road, improvements to Exit 22 and a bridge replacement over Mill Creek.

The North Hills Road and Exit 22 projects are underway and expected to be completed by 2022.

The department has so far refused to provide a list of properties it intends to acquire, which of those properties are considered preliminary projects, how many offers have been made to date and for which properties. However, all of the property owners were notified last month, according to PennDOT.

Department officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this article.

In the past, though, they have said it will likely be much further down the road before actual offers are made on most of the properties.

Anthony Corby, an eminent domain attorney at the Hershey-based Faherty Law Firm, has said he expects an influx of cases as more notifications are received and offers are made for the homes impacted by the larger-scale work.

The project: The $330 million widening project covers roughly 5 miles of the I-83 corridor, from Exit 19 (Market Street) to Exit 22 (North George Street). After its completion, the stretch of interstate will have six lanes rather than the current four-lane design to improve traffic flow.

In total, 91 properties will be subject to complete acquisition. Of those, 60 are residential properties, 27 are commercial properties and four are municipal or tax-exempt properties.

The project's environmental assessment does not include an exact number of partial acquisitions, but it is estimated there will be approximately 109 properties impacted.

Partial acquisition is when PennDOT would purchase only a sliver of a resident's land to accommodate for the project.

The entire project is slated to be completed in 2026.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.