By Dave Russell
Property owners along the U.S. 23 Business/N.C. 107 commercial corridor affected by the reconfiguration of the roads should know in October what the impact to their property would be.
Beginning in 2023, the N.C. Department of Transportation plans for three years of road construction along N.C. 107 and a portion of U.S. 23 Business, including the intersection of Sylva’s two key highways.
DOT plans to eliminate the center turn lane on N.C. 107 in favor of a 17.5-foot grass median. This would separate the two lanes of southbound traffic from two lanes of northbound traffic, with sidewalks replaced and a 5-foot bike lane added.
Upgrades are slated for the N.C. 107/U.S. 23 Business intersection, and from U.S. 23 Business to Dillardtown Road and Municipal Drive, near the Sylva Fire Department.
David Uchiyama, DOT communications officer, said plans for the project are currently 60 percent complete. They should be 75 percent complete by October.
“On those 75 percent plans, right-of-way impacts will be shown,” he said. “
Then, right-of-way acquisition begins in December. The time in-between will allow the project team time to allocate funding for rights-of-way and prepare compensation to be given to the property owners.”
DOT would provide them information regarding the impacts and an offer of compensation would be made.
“It’s very similar to any real estate transaction,” he said. “There will be some room for negotiation.”
For some, the right-of-way negotiation would be the first official contact a property owner has with a DOT representative, he said.
“Right-of-way agents are trained to explain plans and advise property owners how a project will impact their property,” he said.
“The information includes property history, accuracy of property lines, the buildings shown on the plans and other information to assure that the property is properly appraised and evaluated.”
The agents would also inform them of their legal rights and answer any questions, he said.
If the property acquisition results in what Uchiyama calls an “uneconomic remnant,” or the right-of-way acquisition would leave the remainder of the property unable to sustain a business, the NCDOT would purchase the entire property, Uchiyama said.
“Each property and each negotiation is different from another,” he said.
In addition to the rights-of-way, the 75 percent plans would show sidewalks, bike lanes, utilities and crosswalk locations.
“But since they are 75 percent there is still some room for minor adjustments,” he said.
Final plans, including additional items such as pavement markings, signs, bridge and structure plans are scheduled to be completed by September 2021.
The Asheville Design Center was brought in by Sylva’s town board to gather public comment and use that information to suggest changes to the construction project that would be more palatable to the community. The ADC, under the auspices of Asheville-based conservation nonprofit MountainTrue, held a series of meetings to gather input from the community.
The ADC compiled information and is working on a report to the DOT and Sylva’s town board, ADC Director Chris Joyell said.
“No report done yet,” he said Tuesday. “I’m hoping to pull something together for the end of next week. We want to make sure we have something done well in advance of July 11, when we are planning on presenting back to the board.”
Joyell and other volunteer members of the design team presented plans and information in April.
At the meeting, Christy Staudt, a professional transportation engineer, acknowledged, “It seems like we’re in a situation where we said, ‘Hey, community, give us your ideas,’ and I kind of feel like we have come to you having swatted down most of those ideas.
“That is an indication that as DOT and the community have gone through this initial planning process, a lot of things have been vetted and the plan, as impactful as it is, really is probably the best option of all the options out there.”
Uchiyama said the the meetings with the ADC generated some new ideas and recommendations, which if applicable, will be reflected in the 75 percent plans.