Car dealer fights state over right of way for Main St. widening CENTRAL--Union Mills * Westminster * Sandymount * Finksburg

February 08, 1993|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

Charles R. Leese acknowledges that the East Main Street reconstruction project in Westminster will improve Washington Road. But he says a right of way required for the project will put him out of the used car business.

"What will be left of my property is probably enough for a nice repair facility, but I can't function with just a repair facility," says the owner of Leese Auto Sales, at 25 Washington Road.

Construction is to begin in April on the $3.15 million project to widen and resurface East Main Street from Longwell Avenue to Washington Road and Washington Road to Quintal Drive.

Work includes installation of storm drains and replacement of water and gas mains.

Mr. Leese operates a used car lot and repair business on a quarter-acre on the east side of the street, where the state will take about 10 feet of frontage to widen the road.

His wife, Allison, operates Leese Tag and Title Service at the same site.

Mr. and Mrs. Allison say they need all three businesses to make a living.

Mr. Leese suggests that the State Highway Administration buy him out so he can relocate, but SHA officials counter that Mr. Leese knew about the right of way in 1990, when he resumed the businesses after a tenant left. They say the agency can't justify spending tax dollars to buy him out.

The front row of cars on Mr. Leese's lot occupies the 10 feet needed for the right of way.

The dealer says he keeps about 20 cars on the lot and sells about eight a month.

He expects to be able to store only half as many cars after the right of way is taken. That means he could sell only three or four cars a month, not enough to remain in business, he says.

"If you've got them there, on display, that's when people buy them," Mr. Leese says. "Unless you've got them sitting there, they won't sell."

Bob Finck, SHA director of real estate, points out that the right of way is shown on the subdivision plan Mr. Leese filed with the city government in 1990. He was required to file the plan to realign the boundaries of the two lots he owns to ensure access to the landlocked lot at the rear of the property. The landlocked lot houses the repair shop.

"The fact is that he developed that property knowing that he had no right to be on that land. He had to develop on the rest of the property," Mr. Finck says.

Mr. Leese counters that what he showed on the site plan was a right of way "for a proposed widening of the road, and I can't stress enough 'proposed.' Nobody said they were going to do that project."

The SHA tried to get Mr. Leese to donate the right of way as a condition of approval of the 1990 plan, but he refused.

"I said I would not dedicate anything to the state roads because it would destroy my business," he says.

The SHA agreed after several months to accept reservation of the right of way, meaning that it would be reserved on the plan for future acquisition.

Mr. Leese says it should be irrelevant that he knew of the reserved right of way several years ago, because the site has been a used car lot for 10 years. He opened the lot in 1983 as an adjunct to the car repair service he operated at Washington Road and East Main Street. The former car repair site is now occupied by a Sheetz convenience store.

Mr. Leese and the SHA are at odds over the amount he will receive for the right of way. The SHA offered $17,500, which Mr. Leese says is fair for the value of the land but provided no compensation for his loss of business.

Mr. Finck says the state could not justify buying the businesses.

"We're the safeguard of the coffers, and we have to take a position that is in the interest of the citizens," he says.

Mr. Leese has retained a lawyer to negotiate the right of way price with the SHA.

If agreement is not reached, construction will go forward while the dispute goes to a property review board or, as a last step, to court.

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