BEDFORD — Town officials hope negotiations with Joppa Hill Road property owners will result in a formal compromise, rather than taking land by eminent domain.
The town has been trying to reach an agreement with property owners Faith and Chris Schuetz, of 306 Joppa Hill Road, since early spring to obtain a portion of their land to improve sight distance at the intersection of Joppa Hill and Cider Mill roads.
On Sept. 21, Town Manager Jessie Levine said a verbal compromise has been reached. The compromise, if formally signed, would preserve most of the mature maple trees and a Pennsylvania spruce on the Schuetz’s property, and would relocate a section of a stone wall. The town would also gain about 260 feet of land to improve the sight distance at the intersection.
The sight distance at the intersection of Joppa Hill and Cider Mill roads is currently 138 feet, while design standards are 390 feet.
“As part of the roads program, while we perform major road upgrades, we also attempt to correct road deficiencies that compromise the safety of the traveling public, such as insufficient drainage facilities, steep side-slopes, and limitations to sight distance,” said Levine.
At the Sept. 11 Town Council meeting, Levine outlined the issue and recommended setting a public hearing for Oct. 23, to provide a 30-day public notice for such hearings. The council agreed to schedule the public hearing on the condition that if an agreement is made the hearing will be canceled.
“The town has reached out and is not trying to be underhanded about this,” said Council Chairman Chris Bandazian.
If a formal agreement cannot be reached, the town would proceed with eminent domain, which it is trying to avoid, said Levine.
“This is not something we relish doing, but we do think that when we have the opportunity to improve public safety we need to do it,” said Levine.
In pursuing eminent domain, the town would look to recover 329 feet of property for the maximum sight distance, which is defined as what a driver sees while sitting in a car at a stop sign, Levine said.
In a letter to Levine and town engineer Jeff Foote in May, the Schuetzs said they have owned the home since 1980, and have preserved the historic character of the property, which first appeared in town records in the mid-1880s. In a letter on Aug. 13, they said road workers cut several unmarked trees and branches without notice or permission.
“These hardwoods were an integral part of preserving the nature and appearance of our property, our privacy, shade for the yard, a buffer from the road and neighbor ...,” they said. “In addition, there is a 30-inch maple that is mostly on our side of the right-of-way line, and is a very valuable tree to us. It is part of the historic setting of the house, and an integral part of our yard; we do not want it cut.”
The Schuetz family could not be reached for comment on the pending compromise.
Joppa Hill Road has been under reconstruction for several months. If the town pursues eminent domain, it would incur the cost of a professional appraisal and significant legal fees, and compensation of the seized property to the owner per the appraisal, Levine said.
During the design of the project, Foote said he has been approached by residents on the western part of Cider Mill Road who asked that the town improve the visibility from Cider Mill onto Joppa Hill Road.
“The existing side-slope along Joppa Hill impedes clear viewing of vehicles traveling southbound on Joppa Hill Road, thus making it extremely difficult to enter the roadway from Cider Mill. Sight distance limitations are not only the concern of those exiting a roadway, but also present problems to those traveling along the primary road when there is not enough reaction time to stop for a vehicle or something else that enters its path,” Levine told town councilors on Sept. 11, reminding them of the death of a child riding a bicycle near the intersection in 2005.
Joppa Hill Road will be closed from Cider Mill Road to Canterbury Lane through Sept. 27.
On Monday, scheduled road work will remove asphalt on Joppa Hill Road from Canterbury Lane and New Boston Road. On Wednesday, paving is scheduled from 342 Joppa Hill Road to Canterbury Lane. Drivers could experience delays. The contractor may also pave the wearing course of asphalt on Fox Run Road on Wednesday, if schedule allows.
The reconstruction of Joppa Hill Road, from North Amherst to New Boston Road, costs $2.3 million paid through the town’s $13.2 million road bond that passed in March 2011.