KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – A pair of Kingsport homeowners say they face losing around half their property due to a TDOT road widening project.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation is planning a two-phase widening of Memorial Drive/State Route 126 from Center Street to east of Cooks Valley Road.
Next-door neighbors Scott Place and Garrett Hardy learned last month that the widening plan includes the potential use of eminent domain to acquire the right of way for the widening.
Both men and their families moved to Kingsport in the last year. Each was drawn by the area and the property on which their homes sit, surrounded by a dense forest backing up to Memorial Drive.
The stretch of Memorial Drive that runs by their homes on Skyland Lane is planned to have three lanes, a shoulder/bike lane, curbs and raised utility strips.
But Hardy says the right of way includes 1.5 acres of his 3.7 lot. He said he was shocked to learn TDOT required that much of his land.
“I knew they were only putting in shoulders, so I was not too worried about it,” Hardy said. “I just found out how much they were taking when the surveyors came out and put stakes in.”
Place said he would lose just over half an acre of land, which he said is over half the lot.
He said the use of eminent domain would eliminate most of the hardwood forest that provides a peaceful setting and sound buffer to their homes.
“We have a family of deer come through, and we just love watching them come through,” Place said. “We feel like we’re in the forest, but we’re also very close to everything.”
Place said initially it wasn’t just his backyard at risk, but also his home.
He said an appraiser informed him his mid-century modern home was slated for acquisition and destruction because the home’s septic tank is located underneath the property that would become the state’s.
“Our hearts just sank,” Place said. “My wife just, her eyes must’ve been as big as saucers. It was not something we expected in a million years.”
No septic tank, no house — but Place said he did find a solution.
Place said he found out TDOT is installing a new sewer line as part of the road improvements.
He said TDOT will connect to the line on their dime, thus saving the house, but not the forest.
“I think we’ll get to keep the house, but the other problem we run into is the right of way goes about 33 feet from the back of the house,” Place said. “So, we lose all this.”
Place said he’s frustrated TDOT was not more intensive with their planning.
“If they would’ve done a little bit more research, they would’ve found out that they could connect us to sewer, and there was no need to threaten us with tearing down the house,” Place said.
A TDOT representative told News Channel 11 the department is working with local utilities to “determine what options are available for homes with impacted septic locations.”
The representative said TDOT is trying to determine where the lines be installed and if they will be extended to any new locations, and that TDOT “will not force a relocation if septic or sewer hookups will be reasonably available.”
Hardy is also pursuing solutions.
He said TDOT is installing a roadside retaining wall on the edge of properties on both sides of his and Place’s lots.
Because of the retaining wall, Hardy said those properties are set to lose much less land than he will.
He said he has presented the idea of extending that wall to his and Place’s properties as a logical solution to TDOT, but he said he was met with pushback.
“They won’t give me a good reason except maybe cost,” Hardy said. “Although, I haven’t seen any kind of cost analysis. You know how much it’s going to cost to cut down these trees and remove all the stumps to grate the land, and they just have relatively blown me off, honestly.”
Both Place and Hardy said they’ve tried to explain their situation to TDOT, city aldermen, and even attorneys without getting much traction.
“I understand the need to expand roads,” Hardy said. “I understand that Memorial is a heavily used road. I understand the need. I’m not arguing with infrastructure projects. What I am arguing is give the property owners some attention. Take into account their requests.”
In a statement, TDOT also said, “The State strives to settle all acquisitions of property through fair negotiations and equitable procedures established by law. When an agreement cannot be reached between a property owner and the state for sale of property, right of way will be acquired through Eminent Domain Proceedings.”
The phase of road construction that will impact Place and Hardy was identified for construction funding in fiscal year 2025, according to TDOT.