The check never will be in the mail for property owners who live near the path of the extension of Interstate 526 across Johns and James islands, says Charleston County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor.
People who live within 1,000 feet of the proposed road definitely won't be getting any money to compensate them for drops in the value of their property, Pryor said, despite how some people interpreted conditions included in the ordinance when council approved the $558 million project in December.
Council approved the controversial Mark Clark Expressway project with a 5-4 vote. Councilwoman Anna Johnson cast one of the deciding votes after the group agreed to include an amendments that she proposed in the plan.
Her amendment stated that county staffers must provide County Council with a report on the “potential diminution in value to any residence within 1,000 feet of the proposed alignment of the MCE.” It also stated that county staffers must “make good faith efforts to evaluate and consider claims made by residents for compensation due to the impact of the MCE on their property.”
Pryor said that the ordinance doesn't specifically state that anybody will be paid. “Look at the ordinance,” Pryor said. “It said good faith effort. It didn't say we're going to put money in anybody's pocket. The ordinance is the ordinance.”
He also said that Johnson agrees with him about that. “Councilwoman Johnson never said anybody was going to get a check,” Pryor said.
Johnson did not return emails or voicemail messages left on her county and cellphones Friday for clarification on her intention when she proposed the amendment.
Councilman Dickie Schweers, an opponent of completing I-526, said he's certain that Johnson meant that people would be paid for the drop in the value of their property. “Compensation means paying them unless you specify something different,” he said.
But he never thought anybody would be paid. “I thought it was a promise by those in support to get Johnson's vote.”
Pryor said the county also has no intention of paying county residents who already have submitted claims for drops in the value of their property.
After construction has begun, people can file claims if they think their property has been damaged, and the county will try to mitigate that damage, Pryor said. But it will do nothing to compensate people for a drop in property values.“How can you say you lost value when it hasn't been built yet?” Pryor said. “That's an assumption, not a fact.”
Robin Welch, one of the founders of the opposition group Nix 526, said it doesn't matter what Pryor thinks. “It only matters what a judge thinks. Any sane and rational person can read her amendment and know she wasn't talking about sound walls.”
Pryor is “trying to scare people into inaction,” Welch said. If the matter ends up in court, “the judge will use common sense and see that monetary compensation for value loss was absolutely the intent.”
Welch also said that she's disappointed with Johnson, who has the power to fix this. “She can change her vote tomorrow. She can rise up and do what is right.”
And Nix 526, she said, will continue to encourage people to file compensation claims. “It's their legal right.”
Charleston County staffers released a status report on the Mark Clark project to council earlier this week. It stated:
Studies are inconclusive on how new roads affect property values.
The value of some properties could increase as a result of I-526 being built.
I-526 will be built as a parkway, not an interstate, so studies on the impact of interstates on property values don't apply.
It also stated that the county would hire a community relations coordinator for the I-526 project after construction begins. The coordinator would have an office near the site, and residents could talk to him or her about concerns connected to the project.
Welch called the report preposterous. Families who live in homes near I-526 “will be constantly harassed by noise, polluted air, and a nightmarish stream of headlights,” she said. “This report is nothing but a kick in the stomach to all the families who are fighting to protect their homes and futures.”
Garrett Kaufman bought a home on Johns Island about a month ago, which sits about 750 feet from the proposed road. He said he's certain that being in the path of I-526 brings down the value of property. He was able to get the owner to knock $80,000 off the home's $550,000 price tag largely because it was near the path of I-526.
Kaufman said he thinks it's unlikely I-526 will be built, so he took a financial risk and purchased the property.
Schweers said some property likely will increase in value if I-526 is built, and some will decrease. “Some folks are going to lose,” he said. “The question is whether we said we would give them monetary compensation. My interpretation is that yes, we said that.”
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.