Will I-526 hurt your property? Nix 526 wants people in expansion’s path to be compensated

Residents met at a residence Wednesday in West Ashley to get information on how to file compensation claims if the I-526 project goes forward.

Shawn Morrison planned to renovate the condominium she bought in The Savannah in West Ashley to make it a comfortable showcase where she could hunker down for the long haul.

But she put the upgrades on hold when she learned that Charleston County’s planned extension of Interstate 526 to Johns and James islands would pass within a few hundred feet of her home. Now she’s afraid the value of her home will plummet, and she’s reluctant to invest more money in it.

She was one of 14 residents who gathered at a neighbor’s home last week for the grass-roots group Nix 526’s first presentation on how people who live within 1,000 feet of the road’s proposed path could file a claim for financial compensation for the anticipated drop in the value of their property.

Nix 526 is scheduling sessions now, and already has several presentations planned in West Ashley and on Johns and James islands.

Morrison said she especially wanted to renovate her bathroom, which she finds intolerable, but she’s in limbo. “Every morning I say to myself, ‘I hate this bathroom.’”

Charleston County Council approved the controversial road project in December with a 5-4 vote. Councilwoman Anna Johnson was swayed to cast one of the deciding votes in part because of an amendment she proposed that required the county to put forth “a good faith effort” to compensate people who live within 1,000 feet of the road for the impact it would have on their property.

The county has not requested compensation claims and hasn’t established a procedure for handling them.

Robin Welch, one of Nix 526’s founders, said her group launched the claim effort to push the county to follow through with what it said it would do. “Let’s face it, Charleston County made the citizens a promise. Our goal is to help them keep it.”

The group has created a website, www.526claims.org, which provides information to help interested property owners file a claim, she said. More than 3,000 properties fall within 1,000 feet of the road.

“We’re not sure you will get a check if you file this claim, but we know you won’t get a check if you don’t file one,” Welch said at last week’s meeting at Heidi Finck’s home in The Savannah.

Johnson said Friday that she wouldn’t answer questions clarifying her amendment. But, she said, people have a right to file claims for financial compensation. “If people are filing claims because they feel they have damage, then that’s what they need to do,” she said.

And Patricia Lewis, who lives in the Terrabrook neighborhood on James Island, did that when she mailed her claim last week. Lewis said the home she and her mother share falls within 475 feet of the proposed road. “I made the backyard an oasis so my mother could sit outside,” she said. “Now it’s all going to die.”

She said her property is worth about $273,000, and she submitted a claim for about 70 percent of that, or just over $191,000.

Finck said she decided to be conservative with her claim, which she also mailed last week. She is asking for about $35,000, which is about 35 percent of the value of her property, she said.

County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor previously said that when council approved Johnson’s amendment to compensate people in the road’s path, it didn’t mean financial compensation. A few other council members have strongly disagreed.

Pryor, a strong proponent of the road, said Friday that he thinks it’s premature for residents to file claims. “The first pile hasn’t been driven yet,” he said, so people won’t know how they are affected until after the road is built.

And, he said, the extension will be built as a parkway, not an interstate highway. It’s possible that some properties actually will increase in value after it’s built, he said.

He accused Nix 526’s push for claims as “smoke and mirrors” from a group opposed to the road. “These are people who don’t know how to take ‘no’ for an answer,” he said, adding that the majority of council members voted to build the road, and it’s time to move on.

Adron Waites, a lifelong resident of Johns Island and member of the community group the Johns Island Committee, said his group is going to host a Nix 526 claims meeting. The group looks out for the residents of Johns Island, especially the long-term residents, he said.

“We’re not opposed to progress, and we know there are some traffic issues” on Johns Island, he said. “But highways often affect the disenfranchised more than those with more financial backing,” he said. “I was born and raised on Johns Island. Why should I be displaced or lose my home?”

Welch said her group continues to fight to stop I-526 from being built. Shutting down the project would be an even better outcome than people being awarded money for their claims, she said. And she thinks there’s a good chance the project can be stopped. “Our greatest enemy is people just giving up and thinking this is over.”

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491.