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State Condemning, Taking Land To Rebuild 422 Bridges

POTTSTOWN PA – Attention, Mr. and Mrs. Unknown. Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is preparing to take your property in Lower Pottsgrove (PA) Township under an eminent domain proceeding and use it for partial reconstruction next year of U.S. Route 422, unless you object by Oct. 3 (2011).

An engineering drawing, overlaid on a aerial photo, of proposed improvements on Route 422 in and around Lower Pottsgrove (PA) Township. Work is expected to start during 2012.

That, in summary, is the message of a lengthy advertisement that appeared Saturday (Sept. 3) in The (Pottstown PA) Mercury newspaper, which the state recognizes as a publication of record for legal notices.

The Unknowns – there are two of them, actually – are just that: owners of real estate parcels within Lower Pottsgrove whose real names and addresses cannot be identified. The advertisement does not indicate where their properties, labeled as parcels 68 and 89, are located, but they are near the Armand Hammer Boulevard interchange of 422 and its bridge further west over the Schuylkill River.

The state for months has been buying pieces of real estate it needs to rebuild three 422 bridges spanning, and on both sides of, the Schuylkill between Lower Pottsgrove and North Coventry townships. It also is buying around the nearby interchanges, at Armand Hammer and Route 724, where it plans to reconfigure entrance and exit ramps. PennDOT refers to the area as Section M1A of the Pottstown Bypass Improvement Project.

Lower Pottsgrove itself in July (2011) sold a small parcel it owned beneath Armand Hammer to the state for that purpose, and earned $20,900 in the process.

State planners usually decide which properties they need to complete a project like this. State appraisers then determine what they claim to be a fair market value for the land to be bought, and state real estate experts make an offer at that price to the deeded owners. Sometimes the parties haggle, and the price may change; sometimes not. Either way, progress is rarely stopped, and the ground is acquired.

On occasion, though, a deed may have never been filed with the appropriate county, or the recorded data is misplaced or lost, or the last owner has died without naming heirs. Even if the state has no way of contacting whoever owns the lands now (the “Unknowns”), it must buy them before its project can proceed.

So Pennsylvania turns to the law of eminent domain, which allows it to take the property by condemnation. The public must be told about PennDOT’s intentions; it did that in the legal notice. The state must pay “just compensation” for the property, which in this case will be held in an escrow account by the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas.

If the Unknowns surface within the next six years, by 2017 or so, they can file a petition with the court to get their money. If they don’t, the law says once the deadline passes the state effectively acquired the property for free and can keep its cash.

Or if the Unknowns know who they are – a rarity, but possible – they can file a preliminary objection to the taking by Oct. 3. Then they’ll be unknown no more, and purchase negotiations can proceed.

The Unknowns, by the way, seem to be a big family. A similar advertisement, seeking them for property in North Coventry for the same project, also appeared Saturday in The Mercury.

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