WILMINGTON — The city is waiting to hear back from area property owners before effectively taking three dwellings and a vacant lot in order to complete a road improvement project that has been on the books for eight years.
Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday authorizing staff to move forward with legal action if negotiations for the sale of properties on Oleander and Pine Grove drives cannot be settled.
One of more than 35 projects funded by the $44 million 2014 transportation bond, the city has intersection improvements planned for Pine Grove, divided into two parts: north and south. Pine Grove North includes realigning the existing intersection of Pine Grove and Oleander drives, the first intersection east past South College Road. The city will reroute Pine Grove Drive near the Long Leaf Park entrance, constructing a road where homes are currently located, to create a new intersection on Oleander Drive. It will include dual left-turn lanes.
“The purpose is to improve traffic flow, reduce vehicle conflicts and improve safety of motorists and pedestrians,” senior project manager Jason Pace told council Tuesday.
According to North Carolina Department of Transportation, roughly 35,000 vehicles travel through the area daily.
Once construction of the new intersection is complete, the original Pine Grove and Oleander interaction will be shuttered to vehicular traffic and become a multi-use path for bikes and pedestrians to reach nearby Long Leaf Park.
The city must acquire four parcels of land to move forward on the project. To date, it has settled with two property owners; the city didn’t respond to Port City Daily’s request for the agreed price. The government entity is still negotiating with the other two property owners.
The City of Wilmington began its right-of-way acquisition process last fall. According to city staff at Tuesday’s meeting, Gina DiCicco, owner of 4914 Oleander Drive, is holding out. Abutting it south is Pope Properties on 17, owner of 309 Pine Grove Drive, also asking for more money.
Based on third-party appraisals — which is the baseline the city begins for negotiations — the city is offering DiCiccio $356,650 for her Oleander parcel. Of the 0.47 acres of land, the city needs a little more than half for right-of-way and temporary construction easements
According to New Hanover County property records, DiCicco bought the 1,700-square-foot three-bedroom home in May 2005 for $168,000. The total appraised value of her land, according to county’s documents, is $209,900.
Pace explained to council Tuesday, DiCicco has requested $420,000.
“She’s provided justification and as staff, we’re reviewing that,” Pace said. “We think we’re close to settling.”
Pope Properties, owned by Robert Lea, bought the 950-square-foot three-bedroom home on the Pine Grove parcel in July 2015 for $119,000. A 2022 appraisal via county records shows the land and dwelling are valued at a combined $168,200. The city is offering $194,575.
Of Lea’s 0.49 acres, the city will utilize 16,460 square feet for right-of-way and temporary construction easements.
Pace said Tuesday the city has been working with Lea’s attorney on negotiations.
“We’re not in a position to resolve this immediately,” interim deputy city attorney Shawn Evans told council.
Evans has been handling the legal talks, but told council if court is imminent, he will retain Rountree Losee LLP, with whom the city has a contract.
If agreements are not made, the city will file condemnation actions in New Hanover County Superior Court for a judge to determine the value of properties in question, as allowed per general statute 40A-7. The city would then could begin construction.
City staff said Lea and DiCicco were notified about the process, though neither spoke at Tuesday’s meeting. Nor did the parties return a request to speak with Port City Daily.
Staff plans to bid out the new intersection project by March 2023, with construction projected to take a year.
The other portion of the two-part project, Pine Grove Drive South, is slated to start in fall of 2023. It will include improvements, including dual left-turning lanes, at Pine Grove Drive and Holly Tree Road. A dual-lane roundabout will be installed at Pine Grove Drive and Greenville Loop Road. According to NCDOT traffic data, these areas have between 15,000 and 23,000 vehicles traveling through daily.
Construction is projected to take 14 months.
The city has already begun contacting area property owners impacted by the Pine Grove Drive South right-of-way acquisition.
[Ed Note: The article has been updated to correct a typo in the address from 4919 to 4914 Oleander Drive; Port City Daily regrets the error.]
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