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Widening 5600 W. bites into W.V. yards

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WEST VALLEY CITY — Floyd Bailey, Ron Brown and Michelle Feichko have something in common — their front yards along 5600 West look like war zones. But that's where the obvious similarity ends.

Each is having a different experience with the $3.1 million phase-two widening of 5600 West, where rock and rubble run right up to the front doors of some houses between 3300 South and 4100 South. Phase one, still under way, is costing more than $3.5 million to widen 5600 West from 2100 South to 3300 South.

For phase two, UDOT will spend more than $930,000 paying for the impact on 57 properties. Seven of those properties were condemned by the Utah Department of Transportation because owners could not agree with the state on compensation; the rest have settled.

UDOT says looks are deceiving and that things aren't as bad as they seem. Regardless, for residents, the living isn't easy for now.

On a recent hot Monday afternoon, Bailey stands in front of his 91-year-old mother's red brick home, watering what's left of her front yard. He and his 10 siblings grew up along 5600 West, back when the Baileys had up to 30 acres they used to farm.

Bailey, who now lives in Idaho but helps care for his mother, points south to where he used to go sledding in the winter. It's now cars, orange barrels and homes. To the northeast was his school — now strip malls and fast-food restaurants.

"All the landmarks are gone," he laments. "The whole thing is changing." Though the old house he grew up in still stands directly to the south, the family's holdings are down to two acres. It's so noisy now, a conversation inside his mother's home becomes a challenge. Change — the 600-pound gorilla — has settled in.

Someday, if the family can convince a hard-headed Blanche Bailey it's the right thing, they'll tell her it's time to move. But not until they're finished with the state.

Two years ago UDOT had an appraisal done on Bailey's property to determine just compensation for the impact of construction. The family didn't like it and sought a second opinion, which came in at almost twice the amount of the first appraisal.

The two sides will go to the state's private property ombudsman, Craig Call, hopeful they can avoid court proceedings. Meantime, UDOT exercised its own right of eminent domain and construction moves forward. Times are different though, and UDOT is trying not to look like the bad guy.

"UDOT is changing the way it does business," says UDOT spokeswoman Amanda Covington. The 5600 West project employs a full-time "public involvement person," who knocks on doors or spends time on-site every day to mitigate any "inconveniences" that pop up.

And inconveniences are plentiful along 5600 West. Public involvement is now the best approach, she said.

Brown owns just under four acres across the road from Bailey. More than 200 trees, including elm, box elder and walnut, have been cut down on his property. He estimates UDOT has required nearly one-quarter acre from him for the second phase of the widening project. The privacy he and his wife enjoyed is gone.

The noise, dust and carbon monoxide — "We never had it," Brown says. The sun now beats directly on his house, and he's forced to run his swamp cooler nearly every day now. His dealings with the state are nearly complete, although he, too, needs Call's assistance. Brown's hope lies more with a developer, which is eyeing his land and surrounding properties as a future mall site.

"I'd pack up and move in a heartbeat," says the 18-year West Valley City resident. He would leave behind the family farm, where pigs are raised in the winter; where horses are boarded year-round; where people come for free manure; where the family used to gather around the barbecue pit, now just a few feet from the future four-lane highway.

Not quite what Brown had in mind when he moved in. He thought 18 years ago that the state would need 33 feet to widen the road. They needed more. He thought it would happen in 25 years. The widening came seven years earlier. Now he watches every phase of construction like a hawk, looking out for his property rights and in one instance negotiating with road workers over the future of his irrigation ditches.

Both Brown and Bailey do agree on one thing, Western Quality Concrete construction crews have been great to work with — always upfront and informative. It's about the only good thing either has to say about the road work.

Just down the road from Brown, Feichko appears more willing to accept change.

"Yeah, we lose the property, but we gain a sidewalk, curb and gutter," she says. Her children, 14, 9 and 4 months, will use the new path, where once there was none, to walk back and forth to school. It will also be welcome relief from traffic congestion by next spring, which is when some are predicting the road will be done.

"We cried when our trees were taken out," she admits. Feichko has lived on 5600 West for 15 years. "But it all works out in the end." To that end, Call becomes a means.

"It's different when you're taking what was once a country lane and turning it into a four-lane major thoroughfare," he said. Some have settled with the state, others have sought his free assistance as an expert in dispute resolution. Some have chosen court. In any case, Call said, most property owners feel they're not in charge of the process.

Call termed the widening "extraordinarily disruptive." The construction has affected dozens of homes and businesses. Property rights governed by arcane, rigid laws may be an owner's only hope for a fair outcome. Call said there will probably be a move in the Legislature this coming session to change a few of those laws to protect property owners. UDOT says it is doing its part.

"I personally try to be very fair to the property owner," said Wendell Hathaway, UDOT Region 2 land surveyor. His job is to figure how much private property UDOT needs to purchase for road projects. "I try to err on the side of the property owner. I feel that's only fair." Some property owners landscaped on state rights-of-way, and UDOT is extending compensation for that as well.

Before the project is complete, which could be as early as November, UDOT will seed or sod when possible where lawns have been torn up for access to utilities.

E-mail: sspeckman@desnews.com