Airport Expansion Moves One Step Closer To Realization

Relocation A Housing Bonanza For Couple

January 06, 1991|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

Norman and Margaret Gesell had been planning to replace a sagging roof on their 42-year-old three-bedroom home sometime this year.

Instead, they used the $4,000 they had saved for the project to buy a new house.

Well, sort of.

The Gesells' previous home -- built along Littlestown Pike in 1948 for less than $8,000 -- sits directly in the path of the expansion at Carroll County Regional Airport. It -- and four other homes near the airport -- need to be torn down for a new runway.

And while some people might resist selling the home they and their family grew up in to the government, the Gesells jumped at the chance when the county offered to buy their house.

"They have been wonderful," said Norman, 67. "We were going to have to replace the roof and do some painting."

The county offered to buy their house in June. They were in their new home -- a 15-year-old bilevel on Bezold Drive in Westminster -- a week before Christmas.

"And that other house still needs a roof," said his wife, Margaret, 65.

Relocating people whose homes stand in the way of public projects -- like airports, bypasses or rail lines -- is required under federal law.

"Any time you are using federal or state money in any project, you've got to relocate people," said Kenneth E. Baker, the land acquisition manager for the county who is responsible for the airport expansion. "You've got to put people in houses that don't disrupt their lifestyle."

Under the Federal Relocation Assistance Program, people like the Gesells who are displaced by public projects must be moved into comparable housing "at no cost to them," Baker said.

In their case, the county offered to pay them $115,000 for their home. The couple then looked at houses on the market in the Westminster area, found one that cost $119,000, and bought it. The county's $115,000 went toward the purchase price.

"Not a bad deal, if you really think about it," said Norman Gesell.

Not bad at all, say Baker and others who have been through the program. In addition to the purchase price, the government also picks up the cost of packing and moving, of changing and reconnecting utilities, of closing costs and other expenses associated with moving into a new home.

Mortgages and home-equity loans are sometimes refinanced, television antennas occasionally constructed and utility payments sometimes subsidized.

All benefits under the program are tax-exempt.

"Sometimes, the initial response to us coming into a home is negative," said Baker, 34. "But after they hear whatwe have to offer, some of them are out the door so fast it would make your head spin."

Baker has been with the county for about a yearand a half. Before that, he spent several years with the State Highway Administration as a relocation agent. He has handled more than 80 relocation cases.

Most of them, he said, have gone as well as the Gesells' has.

Sitting around their 19th-century chestnut kitchen table, the Carroll natives smiled as they talked about their new digs.

"It's really a dream," Norman Gesell said. "It's hard to believe they would take us out of that house and put us in this one."

Boxes fill most of the two-car garage, and a modest Christmas tree standsin the living room. They spent close to an hour outlining plans for each of the rooms in the home -- a downstairs work room for his antique refinishing, an upstairs bedroom for her crochet and embroidery work.

The Gesells are the third of four families who will be relocated as a result of the more than $13.5 million, 20-year airport project.

But Baker and the rest of the county's land acquisition division buy up nearly 100 properties a year, and some of those purchases require moving people to new homes.

"The program is really a good program, and it's worked quite well," Baker said.

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