Road to Nowhere
November 22, 2004 8:46 PM   Subscribe

My SO's long-held family house looks like it will soon have a 6 lane highway built through it. Is there anything that can be done or said that could have a bearing on the route? (MI)

The Pacific Highway is to be upgraded in the North of NSW(OZ). They have released the study area(house is opposite Newrybar, to the right of the existing road) and there seems little doubt they intend to go through their land. There have been community meetings but they appear to have been nothing more than lip service to concerns. The homestead is 100+ acres and is in original (rare) condition. They have told they cannot sub-divide the land, as it is a water catchment for a nearby town, so can they put a highway through it? Is there anything that can be done? Does anyone have any experience with this? I thought this sort of thing onhly happens in the movies. Very distressing.
posted by figment to Home & Garden (14 answers total)
My experience is that by the time the public hears about it, it has already been decided. I have a friend in much the same situation -- except he's only losing his back yard.
posted by RavinDave at 9:07 PM on November 22, 2004

That really sucks. I don't know anything about your situation, but here in the US, in Seattle, Wendi Dunlap-Simpson has a bunch of info about how she and other homeowners were able to save their homes from being torn down for a new library. Check out her links in the left margin.
posted by GaelFC at 9:43 PM on November 22, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks GaelFC.
My feeling is that if there was a way out (and I don't really think there is) it would be to try and make it a public issue, ie. write to the papers and get the issue out there. Even success would only push the nightmare onto the neighbours.
posted by figment at 9:47 PM on November 22, 2004

I'd guess that the parties involved already know this, but the right of the state to reclaim real private assets is called eminent domain. There usually isn't much that can be done to stop it, and what little can be done almost always invovles a very expensive legal fight. The best defense is to argue that the property to be condemned presently already serves a public good, for instance as a historical landmark or, in your case, as a watershed. It is definitely going to be an uphill battle, but perhaps you can contact some environmental groups see if they could provide any help, legal or otherwise.
posted by ChasFile at 10:33 PM on November 22, 2004

Well, here in Toronto the Spadina Expressway was stopped in its tracks about 30 years ago. It took an enormous effort, and lots of things had to fall into place for the opposition to work.

If you really wanted it stopped you could probably do it. It would be a full time job for a couple of years, but you might just become a national hero... (sounds like I'm joking doesn't it?)
posted by Chuckles at 10:34 PM on November 22, 2004

Response by poster: One wonders if they decide to put the highway through the property it wouldn't destroy the case against being able to sub-divide because of the water catchment.
Given the size of the place, they could then cut half off for the highway and the other half for the medium density housing....

I guess they're probably better off negotiating a decent price rather than using resources in the fight and possibility of ending up with a highway over the back fence.

Thanks for your thoughts.
posted by figment at 10:51 PM on November 22, 2004

The homestead is 100+ acres and is in original (rare) condition

Sounds like you've got a good case for historical preservation. Have your friend call various historical societies in California -- there's so little old-California left that they should be fighting tooth and nail to save it. Good luck.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:10 PM on November 22, 2004


OK? ;)

Yeah, I thought "California" when I read "Pacific Highway" too.
posted by loquacious at 2:10 AM on November 23, 2004

Oh look, there's a link to my site. Hi Gael. :) I was the subject of a MeFi FPP about this as well, back in the days when being MeFied didn't bring servers to a crashing halt! I had forgotten about that until now.

Figment, good luck with this. It is harder, I think, to change a proposed highway route than a proposed library location. In our case, they could choose to place the library on a different block (and they eventually did. It just opened this year), but they can't usually make a highway zig zag around a particular piece of property. (Unless it's a large piece, owned by someone who can afford to pay a lot of lobbyists...)

You are right that making it a public issue is the way to change things, if they can be changed. It is tough, though. In our case the main problem is that the other people on our block weren't participating at first. The reason? Most of them had limited English skills. Several didn't even understand they were about to lose their homes, and would just shake their heads at us when we tried to talk to them. They were friendly, but... we just couldn't communicate.

The turning point came when someone bought one of the homes, and he was Chinese, but spoke fluent English and Vietnamese. He served as an interpreter when necessary, and once he got involved, the neighbors started to protest the threatened demolition along with us. Then we sent out press releases, made cardboard signs for the neighbors to put up in their windows, wrote to politicians, wrote to newspapers' letter columns, etc. It was a lot of work, and a LOT of stress. There are few things more stressful than knowing a home you love might be taken away. But in the end we got the result we wanted, and hardly had to pay a lawyer anything. (We did hire an attorney right at the end to help us with a possible lawsuit. But the library board backed down right after that, so we were very lucky.) Basically, I think it was public pressure that made the difference. It brought tears to my eyes, at the final board meeting, when I saw a room full of people I didn't even necessarily know holding the signs I had silkscreened in my dining room, and standing up to speak on behalf of all of us who were trying to save the block.

I do not know if the water catchment issue is something that can help you, but I'd definitely look into that. The historic aspect may help, but I imagine they might claim that you don't need 100 acres to be a historic site. Still, contact any historic preservation groups that may exist in the area (or further away if necessary). They might have information that can help you.

Even success would only push the nightmare onto the neighbours.

Well, I don't know the area, but it may be that there is an alternative that would make more people happy with the situation. There is no alternative that will make everyone happy, though. In our case, we kept 5 homes but lost a Wells Fargo bank branch. For those who banked there, this was probably an unhappy result. But there are two other banks within two blocks, so we felt it was an acceptable trade-off. I'm sure some neighbors hate us, though.

Good luck and let us know what happens!
posted by litlnemo at 4:31 AM on November 23, 2004

Perhaps not much help, but I'm involved with a group to stop a new-terrain interstate highway in Indiana. I don't know the lay of the land in Oz, but in the States people are under the delusion that highways bring jobs and growth. That's why the highway is still on the table despite more than ten years of opposition to the tune of 96% public comment being against the highway.

Like I said, I don't know how much of this applies in Oz, but the basic strategy for fighting the highway goes a bit like this:

1. There is likely some planning process that must occur before a highway can be funded. There are numerous places to launch an attack during this stage. Consider environmental challenges, endangered species challlenges, historical landmarks and the financial burden as means for turning the public against building the highway. In the States, this is a two-tiered process with an initial study that draws up a series of corridors and then makes a recommendation based on any number of factors. The second tier is an in-depth study of the economic, environmental, and quality-of-life impacts of the proposed route. Obviously, the earlier in the game you can form opposition, the easier it is to successfully challenge the highway.

2. If the highway makes it through the planning process, all is not lost. If you have pro bono help or deep pockets, a series of legal challenges to the validity of the studies and their conclusions can be undertaken. IANAL so I don't have much else to offer here.

3. Finally, the government needs to scare up funding for the highway. This is another great angle to broaden the opposition to the highway. By stating your case in terms of what it will cost the average schmoe it becomes a lot harder to paint you as some wacky enviro-freak or fringe preservationist. Everyone understands cash. This is a lesson that may have been learned too late in our case, but it has been really effective in garnering opposition across the state. After all, why should the entire state have to put up with degraded road surfaces because all available capital is tied up in a new construction project. If you can't kill the funding outright, push for making it a toll road. People hate toll roads and this may sway them to oppose any new construction.

Again, all of this is pretty States-specific, but it should give you an idea of your options. More generally, it will take lots of time and energy. You're going against a bunch of folks who get paid a salary to build highways and another group of folks who pay people to persuade the first bunch to build highways. You, on the other hand, probably have a job and a life outside of fighting the highway and this works against you. Your trump card: you have the final say at the ballot box. Your representatives are for the highway? Vote them out. No one is running for office that is opposed to the highway, draft someone and run them as a single issue candidate. Basically, if a major party sees broad support for an issue, they will adopt it as their own.

Finally, like others have mentioned in this thread, highways have been stopped. People do win. It just takes a lot of effort and dedication. If you want some additional help, email me [profile] and I'll get you in contact with a number of groups in my area that can give you some advice and help you organize.
posted by Fezboy! at 5:45 AM on November 23, 2004

The route of I-485 around Charlotte, NC, was determined in part by my parents and their neighborhood friends. Of the two proposed routes, one required the demolition of more homes (including my parents'). However, my parents were able to demonstrate that the other proposed route would actually affect more residents; fewer homes would be destroyed outright, but many more would be in such close proximity to the route that they would be uninhabitable, or, at least, severely affected. They called politicians, organized neighborhood rallies, got on TV, and basically made nuisances of themselves for a few years. Eventually, they won.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:21 PM on November 23, 2004

Wait, that's not quite right, is it? Route option A would destroy fewer homes than Route option B, so it was the frontrunner. However, it was shown that Route option A affected far more homes indirectly, so Route option B was eventually chosen.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:24 PM on November 23, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks everyone!
I will pass on your wisdom and definately let you know what happens, be it good or bad.
posted by figment at 1:53 PM on November 23, 2004


I am so ashamed. I even went to the website.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:12 PM on November 23, 2004

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