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State Boulevard-area homeowners tired of living in limbo and want to sell

Vocal opponents of $11 million project don't speak for them, they say

Thursday, October 18, 2012 - 6:37 am

Mike McKinley's roof leaks.

Joe Sale's front porch sags.

Peggy Roy's house needs work, too.

And yet each is reluctant to improve their properties in the 2200 block of Eastbrook Drive – despite genuinely seeming to care about their neighborhood, the people living nearby and their obligations as homeowners.

Meet some of the mostly unnoticed people living in the limbo created by the bureaucratic tug-of-war between those who support $11 million in improvements to a section of State Boulevard and opponents doing their best to stop it.

“I moved (to the Georgetown area) in 2006 when the city told me it was going to buy my home,” Roy said. About 18 homes along Eastbrook and Westbrook were bought and demolished. Subsequently, however, the removal of Roy's house and several others for flood-control purposes was put on hold by plans to widen and straighten State between Cass Street and Spy Run Avenue – a plan being fiercely opposed historic preservationists, at least one City Council member and the president of Roy's own Brookview Neighborhood Association.

But even if that opposition fails, construction bids won't be awarded until 2014 at the earliest, with completion long after that. And so she and the others wait, unwilling to make investments for which they are unlikely to reimbursed even if the city does ultimately buy their properties – an ironic but logical example of how efforts to preserve an historic neighborhood have in a way contributed to its decay.

Roy, McKinley and Sale are among the owners of about 12 homes slated for demolition – most, if not all, of whom are willing and even eager to sell, they and city officials say.

It's not that they don't like the neighborhood, despite some of the flooding and traffic headaches the State project would address. They're just tired of living with the uncertainty and economic cost it could exact.

“It took me two and a half months to find my last tenants, and I have to go with short-term leases. I'd fix the place up, but I can't renovate. I'm losing money, and it sucks,” said Roy.

But that creates a Catch-22 for them and other affected homeowners: Any investments they make may not be reimbursed by the city when it does get around to buying them out, since payment will be based on professional appraisals. But if they let the properties deteriorate, their appraised value could do likewise.

What's more, as McKinley noted, housing values in general have not exactly skyrocketed since the city first proposed a buyout in pre-recession 2006.

As I reported Saturday, Brookview President Michelle Briggs Wedaman has taken the lead in opposing the State project, crafting a letter to city officials signed by 15 neighborhood association leaders representing more than 11,000 residents. Wedaman and City Councilman John Shoaff insist the project will irreparably harm the neighborhood's historic integrity and turn the affected section of State – now a winding, two-lane residential drive – into a potential truck route. City officials say they are designing the changes to ensure that doesn't happen.

But Wedaman's home is not in the area most directly affected. Roy's is, and she would like Wedaman and other opponents to consider the human cost of their position.

“I'm so for this project. It's a nightmare trying to get into State (from Eastbrook). You can't turn left (because of traffic and poor sight lines cause by the sharp curve to be removed),” McKinley said.

"Just try getting out on State to take the kids to school,” Sale added.

“People on the other side (of State) don't know the hardship (opposition to the project) has caused,” Roy said. “The people fighting it have been heard; now we have to take the initiative.”

To that end, she hopes to convince City Council members that criticism of the project is not as unanimous as it may appear – a position endorsed by at least one neighborhood leader whose name was on the multi-association opposition letter.

Although Spy Run Neighborhood Association Vice President John Meinzen has some concerns, he said he “doesn't agree 100 percent” with critics. He doubts those who claim State will become a popular truck route, for example.

At this point, Roy, McKinley and Sale want the project to proceed. But they could also live with its demise. At least then they'd know, and could act accordingly. For now, though, all they know is that they don't really know much of anything – except that they don't like living in limbo.