In with the highway, out with the residents

As PennDOT began send­ing buy­ing of­fers to homeown­ers last week whose homes lie in the path of I-95's pro­posed de­vel­op­ment, res­id­ents un­der the Bridge Street exit hope for a good deal.

Helen Ai­chroth, 77, in the back­yard of her home for the past 40 years on the bor­der of Brides­burg and Frank­ford. Her home will soon be ac­quired by PennDOT to make room for im­prove­ments to I-95. STAR PHOTO / SAM NE­W­HOUSE

In the back­yard of her house at the corner of Wakeling and Ta­cony streets, Helen Ai­chroth has raised a holly tree, an ever­green, and a garden of rose­buds and mock or­anges while liv­ing there for 40 years un­der the shad­ow of In­ter­state 95.

She said she’s very proud of her home, which has four bed­rooms, two bath­rooms, a porch, a patio, a base­ment, and a car­port that she built her­self.

“It’s a won­der­ful house,” said Ai­chroth, 77. “I’ve put every dime I have in­to my house, in­to the floors, the walls, the ceil­ings, the plumb­ing. And now we’re go­ing to have to go.” 

Ai­chroth and neigh­bors who reside in about 30 oth­er homes in the neigh­bor­hood will soon have to move to make way for a planned widen­ing of I-95 in this area as part of the 95 Re­vive pro­ject, which in­volves the re­fur­bish­ing and im­prove­ment of the high­way from Vine Street to Cottman Av­en­ue.

The Pennsylvania De­part­ment of Trans­port­a­tion began mak­ing of­fers to pur­chase homes from prop­erty-own­ers last week, and will also be of­fer­ing re­lo­ca­tion as­sist­ance to renters whose res­id­ences are be­ing sold, ac­cord­ing to PennDOT of­fi­cials. Con­struc­tion is ex­pec­ted to be­gin in this area in 2017.

“Every­body will be taken care of,” said Mary Hag­gery, a renter who lives on Wakeling Street. “It’s not like we’re be­ing thrown to the wolves. I’ll be glad to leave. It’s not nice around here.”

The area be­ing tar­geted for pur­chase by PennDOT is bounded by Bridge Street, James Street, Ara­mingo Av­en­ue, and Ta­cony Street, an area that con­tains blocks of Wakeling Street and Pratt Street. 

Loc­ated un­der In­ter­state 95’s exit 27, the Bridge Street and Har­bison Av­en­ue exit, these partly res­id­en­tial blocks are bordered by the Hon­ey­well plant and the Mari­time Academy Charter School, both on Bridge Street. 

Some res­id­ents are happy at the pro­spect of be­ing bought out by PennDOT.

“I feel good about it,” said Pratt Street res­id­ent Melanie Har­ris of the im­pend­ing sale of her home. “It’s an op­por­tun­ity to grow.”

But for oth­er res­id­ents, this neigh­bor­hood is a home they say they are re­luct­ant to leave.

“It sucks be­cause I like this neigh­bor­hood. I fi­nally found a house that I like,” said a renter on Wakeling Street, who de­clined to give her name but lives with her young son.

“It is what it is. I’m just afraid we’re go­ing to get low­balled,” said a Wakeling Street homeown­er of 18 years who re­fused to give her name.

On James Street, PennDOT is only ac­quir­ing the east­ern side of the block. A res­id­ent of the west­ern side of James Street, Christine Hart, said she was dis­ap­poin­ted that she would soon live be­side the high­way.

“There could be ac­ci­dents, traffic, noise,” said Hart, who first be­came aware of the im­pend­ing ac­quis­i­tions by PennDOT about a year and a half ago. “I’m a first-time homeown­er and a single moth­er. Now I’m stuck.”

Ai­chroth said that years ago, when she first heard about the planned 95 ex­pan­sion over where her house cur­rently sits, she packed up her pos­ses­sions and got ready to move.

“I packed five years ago. I emp­tied all my draw­ers. It’s hor­rible, everything’s in boxes. I’ve been liv­ing out of con­tain­ers for years,” she said.  

While Ai­chroth heard from neigh­bors about the im­pend­ing plan, and says she re­ceived let­ters in­dic­at­ing that she should ex­pect be­ing re­quired to leave her home soon, she could not pro­duce any of the let­ters for Star, and PennDOT denied that they told any­one they would have to leave five years ago.

“No one was made of­fers five years ago, but at the pub­lic meet­ing [in Frank­ford] five years ago plans were presen­ted. People knew and un­der­stood at that time that PennDOT would be com­ing even­tu­ally to ac­quire their prop­er­ties,” ex­plained Paul Schultes, PennDOT’s con­sult­ant-pro­ject man­ager. 

“Of­fers were not pre­vi­ously made, let­ters were not sent. A right-of-entry let­ter for en­gin­eer­ing and sur­vey­ing might have been done,” he con­tin­ued. 

The pro­cess of mak­ing of­fers to res­id­ents was on­go­ing last week, Schultes said, but PennDOT is not re­leas­ing the ap­prais­als of prop­er­ties in the neigh­bor­hood pub­licly.

All of the ap­prais­als for this pro­ject were made by in­de­pend­ent, cer­ti­fied ap­praisers, and then veri­fied by a second, in­de­pend­ent ap­praiser, ac­cord­ing to Matt Kulpa, PennDOT’s Dis­trict 6 Right-of-Way Ad­min­is­trat­or.

“We start with a right-of-way plan, which tells us which prop­er­ties we need to ac­quire and which por­tion we’re buy­ing, either an en­tire prop­erty or just a piece of it for con­struc­tion,” Kulpa said. 

“After we have the plan, we get a pack­et of in­form­a­tion to the homeown­er, an ‘ad­vance no­tice of ac­quis­i­tion.’ It shows the ef­fect on their prop­erty … and tells you your rights when your prop­erty is needed for high­way con­struc­tion,” Kulpa ex­plained.

PennDOT is re­quired by law to of­fer a fair mar­ket value to homeown­ers in this type of em­in­ent do­main ac­quis­i­tion. 

“I just want what I have,” Ai­chroth said of what she would con­sider fair com­pens­a­tion for leav­ing her home. “I just know I want a won­der­ful home. If they won’t give me a home where I want it, I will fight them for more money.” ••

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