John Smith recently learned that he can go ahead and build his retirement home on his own property after all.
About four years ago, Smith purchased the plot with territorial views on Cousins Road in Adna. He had plans to build his dream home and retire to the countryside with his wife in order to wile away their golden years watching storms come and go and deer amble through the meadow down by Stearns Creek.
Late last year, Smith got a rude awakening when he was alerted by Lewis County government officials that a set of culvert replacements could result in a reroute of Cousins Road through the middle of his property. The proposed new road would have run within 15 feet of the front door on the house Smith was set to build.
Understandably, Smith was not pleased with the prospect of highway traffic running through his front yard. He also had no interest in selling the property at any kind of reduced rate to the county. As a result, he found himself at an impasse with the county for a few months as the uncertainty lingered.
As the days turned into months, Smith was active in contacting local government officials.
First, he had 19th District state Rep. Brian Blake come out for a visit. Blake expressed empathy for Smith’s plight but noted that any direct action was out of his jurisdiction. Instead, he promised to speak on Smith’s behalf to the Board of Lewis County Commissioners and encouraged Smith to do the same.
Smith did just that and wound up finding an ally in Commissioner Bobby Jackson, who visited the property multiple times and kept an open dialogue with Smith as they worked through the various issues at play.
At the heart of the matter was the Lewis County Public Works Department’s belief that it could save about $600,000 by rerouting the road and simply eliminating several culverts rather than ripping out the old ones, replacing them and reworking the road in place.
Smith said Jackson was not blinded by the talk of dollar savings and seemed to empathize with the personal impact to Smith and his family.
“He genuinely seemed to put himself in my shoes and we shared a lot of information,” said Smith, who met with Jackson on three occasions.
Those meetings apparently paid off on March 1 when Smith said that during a private meeting with Jackson, the commissioner “informed me that rerouting Cousins Road through my property is off the table.”
The sudden change in plans was a welcome for Smith, who had previously offered to sell his 5-acre parcel to the county for no less than $100,000. That offer never gained any traction, and Smith feared that he would be forced to go through the lengthy eminent domain process before ultimately losing his property.
“I thought we were really gonna be sunk. I didn’t expect it,” said Smith. “It is a great relief. It took a couple days for it to sink in because I really thought we were going to lose. I am elated.”
Smith was sure to offer up his thanks to Jackson for championing his cause to Lewis County Public Works Director Erik Martin.
Martin noted that there are three culverts that need replacing in total, but that the one farthest south on Cousins Road is in line for the first round of repair work. He said the county hopes to obtain fish passage barrier funding from the state in order to help offset costs for the other two culverts closer to the corner of Mohoric Road and Cousins Road.
Phone calls to Jackson were not returned, but he did provide brief comment via email.
“After meeting with the Smith’s (sic) on a couple of occasions, and in talking with our county engineer, we were able to determine that we had alternatives that would not require us to move forward with our original project. While we felt that the idea was a very good one, once we realized that we had other feasible options, the BOCC determined that we would proceed with those, allowing the Smiths to pursue building their new home.”
Smith said he’s currently looking at finalizing plans for his new home and is hoping to get started later this year. However, Smith noted a bit of reservation since he has not been given any sort of tangible guarantee that the plan will not change in the future.
“They haven’t given me anything in writing so I’m going to have to keep my eye on them,” said Smith.
However, Martin said that there is no need for Smith to keep on fretting.
“There was nothing in stone to begin with. It was a proposal. It was sort of a concept so there was nothing saying that we were going to go with that or any other option to begin with,” said Martin. “There’s really nothing I can give him to say that we are not going to do it someday, but at this point, if we are going to spend all that money to replace the bigger culvert, it really doesn’t make sense to pursue both options.”
Martin added, “At this time I can assuredly tell you that we have no plans in place to reroute Cousins Road.”