Md. Route May Catch Owners Unawares

Dale McCarthy of Derwood was surprised to learn that the intercounty connector would eat up most of her back yard, where she and her husband spread the ashes of their son.
Dale McCarthy of Derwood was surprised to learn that the intercounty connector would eat up most of her back yard, where she and her husband spread the ashes of their son. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 26, 2006

In the coming weeks and months, some property owners along the proposed route for the intercounty connector could find a surprise in their mailbox: a notice that state officials intend to acquire a part of their land to make way for the 18-mile highway.

Maryland transportation officials have known for months which properties could be subject to "partial acquisitions" but have not sent notices to nearly 200 landowners who may be forced to give up a slice of their property through eminent domain.

The state has held off because the right of way for several sections of the highway -- designed to link Interstate 270 in Montgomery County with Interstate 95 and Route 1 in Prince George's County -- has not been officially approved and could change, according to transportation officials.

It would be unfair to alert property owners about eminent domain proceedings, officials said, until it is certain that their properties are going to be affected. "We want to know where the road is going to go before we bring a specific property owner in and say this is how much we need and begin negotiations over the fair-market value," said David Buck, a spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Critics, however, say the state is stalling to mute additional opposition to the project, which for years has been opposed by environmental groups. Some of the affected landowners also worry that any delay will hurt them in a cooling real estate market.

The right of way has been finalized in only one of the five phases of the $2.4 billion highway project, state officials say. The 122 private landowners in that first phase have been notified that they are losing a piece of their land.

The first phase, known as "Contract A," runs between I-270 and Route 97 in Montgomery.

There are 173 private property owners in the remaining four phases whose land could be subject to the partial acquisitions, according to a state highway document. Those parts of the route stretch from Route 97 east to Route 1 in Prince George's.

Officials stressed that they are working to limit the impact, and the numbers could change. Once lines are set, they said, property owners within the right of way will be notified.

The approximately 60 landowners whose entire properties are being acquired by the state were notified in November 2005 because it was certain they would be displaced by the project, Buck said.

Property owners have had plenty of opportunities to inquire about the fate of their land, Buck said. The state has held nearly 100 public meetings in the past couple of years, offered maps showing where the road would go and met one-on-one with dozens of homeowners.

Although transportation officials say they are only being fair, Montgomery County Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville) said the state's approach to notifying residents amounts to "a strategy to minimize opposition" to the highway, which received federal approval in June.

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