Forestport couple may lose part of property to eminent domain
Safety concerns at a Route 28 curve just north of an entrance to the Adirondack Park are forcing a family from its home and business.
The state Department of Transportation plans to take about 2.5 acres through eminent domain from James and Bridget Matteson to flatten the dangerous curve as part of a $6.8-million project to widen and improve about 12 miles of road on Route 28 in the southwestern Adirondacks.
Officials from the DOT say the Mattesons were initially fine with the plan until they became unhappy with the financial package offered by the state. The Mattesons say moving their house and business wasn’t ever their preferred plan.
“We never really wanted to move anywhere,” Bridget Matteson said. “It wasn’t a choice that we had.”
Thirteen years ago, James and Bridget Matteson moved to 12470 Route 28 in Forestport with $10,000 in savings and their dreams to start a business and family together.
At times, they rolled change to be able to buy a loaf of bread. They worked seven days a week and almost never took vacations, they said.
“We gave up a lot to build this business,” Bridget Matteson said. “We’ve built something here. We built something that we don’t want to walk away from.”
While running their two businesses, Matteson’s Vinery and Produce and Adirondack Mountain Wreath and Landscaping, they also had three children: Matthew, 14; Joshua, 11; and James Jr., 8 months.
The two older children were raised helping out with the businesses.
James Jr. was born with several health issues, including cranial stenosis and Apert syndrome, and has to stay on oxygen. He returned home Dec. 14 after 50 days in University Hospital in Syracuse.
His medical conditions have added extra financial burdens and time constraints for the family.
Now, the family members think a raw deal from the state could damage what they’ve worked so hard to build, they said.
“We believed New York was supporting small business – wanting it to grow,” James Matteson said. “This is a family that’s self-employed, and they’re going to ruin it.”
Thrown a curve
In June 2006, DOT officials told the Mattesons they wanted to take one car-length of their property near the curve just south of Camp Russell on Route 28, James Matteson said.
From July 1, 2004, to June 30, 2007, about 2.7 times as many accidents occurred at the curve compared to the state average for rural, two-lane highways, said Alice Romanych, DOT Region 2 public information officer. There were no fatal accidents during that time, but there has been at least one fatal accident since then, she said.
After talking to the Mattesons, DOT officials came back later in June 2006 with a new plan to take much more land. The new plan meant the Mattesons would have to build a new house and buildings for their business farther back on their property, James Matteson said.
The Mattesons also found out within the last few months that an additional 30 feet will be taken – to bring the total to 2.5 acres being taken of their 15 acres, James Matteson said.
“I believe, from the get-go, we were misled,” he said.
Romanych said it was only after the Mattesons expressed concerns with the proximity of the road to their buildings that state officials decided it would make sense to take more land.
But Bridget Matteson said the state still would have needed to move the Mattesons’ buildings, even if it was taking just a strip of land, because the state would have needed to clear space to provide a greater line of sight at the curve.
The Mattesons are unhappy with the appraisal for their buildings, they said.
For their two-story, three-bedroom, remodeled house, they have been offered $104,000, they said. They were offered $80,000 for their business buildings and $2,950 for house-moving expenses, they said.
“There’s not a lot of houses going for $104,000 in the Adirondack Park,” James Matteson said.
There is also a chance they will receive another $93,500 for their house, they said.
Romanych said she can’t discuss details of the financial package offered to the Mattesons.
The Forestport assessor’s office lists the Mattesons’ entire property at $94,400. Forestport conducted reassessments from 2006 into 2007.
For a new modular house, the Mattesons are expecting to pay $199,000. They also plan to pay $150,000 for a barn for their businesses. Those costs don’t include heat, wells, septic, driveways or electrical hookups, they said, and they’re worried they won’t be able to afford it all.
The Mattesons also said they were promised three appraisals, but Romanych said DOT officials never said they would do three. A second appraisal will be conducted soon because of their concerns, Romanych said.
Worrying about their baby, house and businesses has caused this to be a challenging year for the Mattesons, they said.
“It’s just heartbreaking,” James Matteson said. “I mean, I’m a man, and I went down on the corner and had a few tears. You can’t just steal my home and my business and give me nothing back.”
The Mattesons are “good, hard-working people,” and it’s only normal and correct they should have concerns, Romanych said.
“When someone talks about you moving out of your home, there are emotions involved with that,” she said. “And it can be a very difficult thing – especially when you’re dealing with a lot of other situations.”
During their struggles, the Mattesons have received much support from friends, family and customers, they said.
Cindy Isensee, owner of The Knotty Pine Restaurant at 2776 Route 28 in Thendara, buys flowers, fruit and Christmas trees from the Mattesons. The Mattesons also landscaped at her restaurant and eat there when they’re not too busy, Isensee said.
It seems unfair that such nice people have to deal with this situation, Isensee said.
“It’s so unfortunate,” she said. “They’re a wonderful, wonderful family. They’re such a plus to everyone who lives around here.”
ABOUT THE PROJECT
The pavement on Route 28 for about 12 miles in the towns of Forestport and Webb has been deteriorating and has previously only been addressed with some interim work, said Alice Romanych, DOT Region 2 public information officer.
Resurfacing and reconstruction will take place, and the road will be widened, taking small pieces of land from homeowners along the 12 miles and 2.5 acres from James and Bridget Matteson.
The $6.8 million project is 80 percent federally funded and 20 percent state funded, Romanych said.
ä It is expected to begin in January 2009 and be completed by the end of that year, she said.
The accident-prone curve by the Mattesons will be flattened and lengthened. It’s unclear when the construction will reach the Mattesons’ property, but they probably have about 15 months until they have to move from their home, Romanych said.