Road construction rousts rodents, angers King’s Mill residents

by Amy Kingsley

When the Baird and Gladson families moved into their houses, they knew they would become very familiar with the Urban Loop planners had routed through their neighborhood. They did not bet on making such close acquaintance with the snakes, rats and mosquitoes that, displaced by the nearby construction, would be moving into their backyards.

The Bairds and Gladsons live across the street from each other on King’s Mill Road and both of their houses sit next to the Urban Loop. The animal invasion is just one of a long list of complaints they and their neighbors have about the road, which has been under construction for three years.

Realtors, government officials and politicians have misled King’s Mill residents about the size and proximity of the Urban Loop, said Marilyn Baird said, and attempts to obtain some relief for their hardships have gone nowhere. Baird most recently confronted the Guilford County legislative delegation at a “Take it to Raleigh” meeting with allegations the neighbors were being railroaded.

“We’ve had no use of our deck since construction started because the mosquitoes from the retaining pond are so bad,” Baird said.

The contractors built the pond to collect runoff, and it has since become home to a thriving mosquito colony, Baird said. She said she had to hold a July 4th party inside her house because the insects were so bad.

In an e-mail response to YES! Weekly, Division Construction Engineer Brad Wall said the department had paid particular attention to the Bairds’ property, in particular mowing the grass that might shelter wildlife.

At the meeting, another neighbor Debbie Piper showed legislators photographs of large snakes and lizards she found on her property.

The profusion of pests may be the most disturbing aspect of road construction, but it is hardly the only complaint the Bairds and Gladsons have.

“Our house is shifting to the left,” Baird said.

Doors on the top floor that used to stay open now swing closed, she said, adding that the house across the street has sustained even more damage. Wall said the department will inspect the houses after construction is finished to check for damage.

“We’ve got 53 structural cracks on the inside of the house,” Steve Gladson said.

Baird moved into her house in 1996, and the realtor who made the sale told her about the Urban Loop. She said Tom Chitty, who at that time worked for RE/MAX, lied about the distance between her property line and the road. Chitty said the road would be 150 feet from her home, and even went as far as to pace out the distance, Baird said.

Reassured that the Urban Loop would be sufficiently far from their home, she and her husband signed the paperwork. What Chitty did not tell her, Baird said, was that 90 of those 150 feet would be embankment.

Chitty said the NC Real Estate Commission investigated the matter and Baird’s claim was dismissed as being without merit. He declined to comment directly on her allegations.

Deception by the real estate broker was only the beginning of a series of prevarications, both Baird and Gladson said.

On Aug. 1, 2006, Baird tried to enter her neighborhood only to discover the road had been blocked due to a gas leak caused by construction. Her husband was asleep in the house at the time and Baird wanted to know whether he had been informed.

“You didn’t even need to be told because you could smell it,” Baird said.

After the incident, Baird called the Department of Transportation and Piedmont Natural Gas; the latter told her the leak was dangerous, the former said it was not.

“That’s just one of the lies they’ve told us,” she said about the Department of Transportation.

Gladson said his utilities have been interrupted more than 60 times. Wall acknowledged some interruptions but stated the department could not verify the 60-plus number.

The neighborhood was originally told the Urban Loop would be a four-lane road that an average 32,000 vehicles would use per day, Gladson said. Now the project is an eight-lane highway that will transport an average of 100,000 vehicles a day.

Greensboro city leaders and the Department of Transportation hail the Urban Loop project as one that will advance the city economically and environmentally by reducing congestion and linking thoroughfares.

Residents of the King’s Mill neighborhood see it in a different, less flattering light. They’ve sought relief from the Department of Transportation, the Attorney General’s Office and legislators. What the Bairds, Gladsons and their neighbors want is for the state to buy their houses under eminent domain.

They said the state owes it to them because King’s Mill, particularly the part of it in the shadow of the Urban Loop, has become unlivable. They said they have heard rumors that they are a test case, an opportunity for the department to experiment to see how close they can build a major road to residences. Gladson’s property is only 14 feet from the department’s orange safety fence. In his e-mail, Wall wrote there is no truth to the rumor and added that development is happening near several existing highways.

Residents said they have endured peeping toms, construction debris and mudslides and dozens of interruptions in utility service. Those problems will fade as the road nears completion, Gladson said, but they will be replaced by others. He said noise from trucks averages about 80 decibels – equivalent to a lawnmower from five feet away.

“If you go onto the new bridge near Adams Farm and you look out over toward our house,” Gladson said, “it looks like the road is right on top of it.”

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