NEW ALBANY — In the absence of movement on part of the Mount Tabor Road reconstruction project, one family is fighting the City of New Albany to get back their land.
Since January, part of Scott and Carrie Whalen’s front yard, once marked for intersection improvements, has seen no changes. That was when the city stopped working on the plans after the residents questioned the city’s actions, including the planned addition of a signal and a turn lane at the Klerner Lane four-way stop based on two traffic studies that residents deemed inaccurate.
The city vowed to conduct new traffic studies before committing to the updates.
Claiming that the project is now moot, the Whalens have filed a motion in Floyd County Circuit Court to take back the .384 acres of land that the city bought from them through eminent domain. The city also obtained .084 acres for construction purposes. A hearing on the motion will occur at 11 a.m. Wednesday.
Scott Whalen declined an interview with the News and Tribune, but a news release about the hearing contained the motion.
A response, filed by the City of New Albany and asking for the judge to deny the Whalens’ motion, said that the municipality still needs the land obtained from the Whalens to complete the project, to which the city remains “fully committed."
The intersection phase of the project is slated to start after the first phase, said Greg Fifer, the attorney representing the city in its eminent domain case. The first phase extends from Grant Line Road to about 200 feet before the Klerner Lane intersection and includes the stabilization and widening of Mount Tabor, drainage improvements and the construction of gutters and sidewalks.
Fifer wasn’t sure about the status of the traffic studies the city has promised, but said he believes New Albany is focusing on the project’s first phase.
In emails included in the Whalens’ motion, New Albany Public Facilities Specialist Jessica Campbell told Scott that there were no plans, funding source, scope or schedule for the intersection phase of the Mount Tabor Road project.
Fifer says that the Whalens are allowed to have part of their land back if the project doesn’t materialize for six years. But that’s only the land that the city temporarily needs to work on the road project. The property that the city took from Whalens to be used for permanent improvements is the city’s to keep, according to Fifer.
The Whalens are the only Mount Tabor homeowners who have filed a motion to get their land back, Fifer said. So far.
Kelly Feiock, another Mount Tabor resident, said she was interested in the idea, but she wanted to see how the Whalens’ request was received.
Feiock has been battling the city on the Mount Tabor road project for years now. New Albany started the eminent domain process against her and her neighbors in 2016.
The project has reduced Feiock’s yard frontage from 35 feet to 10, which she says has made her property illegally zoned for residential use. This means she’s no longer allowed to alter her home or build on her property.
Feiock doesn’t think that an updated intersection is necessary for Mount Tabor Road, and she wishes the city would have taken only enough of her land to widen and fix the road.
She’s currently one of the four Mount Tabor road residents who Fifer says are still locked in legal disputes with the city over the eminent domain needed for the project. (Feiock believes there are more residents still involved).
She wants to be compensated for the full value of her home instead of the $14,700 the city has given her.
A jury trial for Feiock’s case is scheduled for October, but it’s going to be expensive for all parties involved. She hopes to settle with the city out of court, but barring that, she could see herself turning to Whalen’s solution.
Then, she thinks, if the city comes back to buy her property after potentially changing their intersection plans, they might take only the minimum amount of land she wishes they would have in the first place.