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City officials in Charlotte are acquiring properties to make way for the Blue Line Extension. Because it's a public project, the city is taking land through negotiations or eminent domain.
Some business owners are not happy.
"Who has the right to take what you've worked and dreamed for. No one has that right. I guess they do – don't they", says Jo-Anne Morlando, co-owner of Nona's Sweets.
The bakery cafe at Clay Corner is one of dozens of businesses that received letters from the City of Charlotte notifying them they had to move because the city is taking the property.
Dominica Clementi says they signed a 10-year lease. She says "we received a letter saying the property is part of overall acquisition for light rail to go through". In September they received a letter telling them they had 90 days to move.
Danny Rogers, Project Director says the Blue Line Extension "will provide high capacity transportation for the northeast corridor so it can grow economically."
City officials say the billion dollar project will go from ninth street in Uptown out to North Davidson and the University area on North Tryon to UNC Charlotte. The 9.2 mile extension of the blue line will not only extend transit, but improve the roads, construct bike lanes and sidewalks.
Rogers says "it's a great project. It's going to help Charlotte in total, but specifically the northeast corridor is going to benefit tremendously from this transformation".
To make room for the extension, city officials say they need more than 300 parcels of land. The latest numbers show they've completed 78 appraisals and reached agreements with 45 property owners. However, there are eight condemnation cases where property owners are challenging the city's appraisal.
Assistant City Attorney Brad Thomas says the "city really wants to acquire property by negotiation – if at all possible – that's the best interest for property owners, best for the city." He says eminent domain "is a tool for a municipality to get a public project built. In the best interest of the public we believe we will use that authority".
Some property owners tell WBTV they're angry because they've invested a lot into remodeling their businesses, planning for future business income. One owner says she's being forced to take a big loss because of what the city considers fair compensation.
Gwendolyn Brower was once the owner of 5600 Old Concord Road, where she ran her import export business, and rented space to an auto repair shop. She says as of "September 18th, the city acquired it under eminent domain". Brower says she was upset with city's initial offer because "they came back with something below tax value".
Brower hired an attorney to challenge the offer. While the legal process continues, the city deposited the money into an account and the title shifted to the city. Brower says "I feel it was taken. I didn't have a choice. It's like we need it for the light rail and we'll try to negotiate with you and if we can't we'll use the process available to them which is eminent domain and that's how it went".
The owners of Nona's Sweets say they moved their business to Clay Corner on J. W. Clay Boulevard four years ago because they knew a light rail stop was going to be built in front of them. They pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars in building improvements to turn the spot into their dream location.
Come January – they have to move because of the blue line extension calls for the city to build a park deck at that location. Because they're renting the property, the city won't reimburse them for any of the building improvements they made.
Clementi says it's "very disheartening, very angry – but you can't fight city hall. We've done it. Petitions, gone to meetings and so on – eminent domain just kicks in".
She says she wants customers to know they're not closing - just relocating.