Public Notice: Condemning the Chronicle?

Our small part in the I-35 expansion story

Public Notice: Condemning the <i>Chronicle</i>?

There's been some chatter on social media about the Chronicle building being in the construction footprint of the I-35 highway expansion, so I thought I'd address that here, and outline how that process works.

Yes, the new highway right-of-way would take up just about all of the Chronicle office building on 40th Street, as well as half of the Public Storage building next door, and across the highway, it would extend to within a few feet of the Fiesta Mart. But whatever our editorial staff may think or write about the plan overall (not much; see this week's News feature), our position as a business is pretty straightforward and more or less neutral: Eminent domain is a necessary tool for governments to buy land needed for public projects, and in general, I wish there were more properties in public hands. There's been a robust outreach effort to affected property owners; we've already had a meeting with TxDOT representatives, who laid out the land acquisition process and the expected timeline, answered many questions, and explained our rights. (There's also a detailed Landowner's Bill of Rights and other process documents online, which is where any quotes below are sourced from.)

So putting aside the merits of the project, assuming things go according to TxDOT's plans, here's what's going to happen:

TxDOT is studying three options at this point: Two build options have the same footprint regarding our property, and a "no-build" option would leave us where we are. The agency will continue to evaluate the options, working toward a draft and the final environ­ment­al impact statement, including "identification of the Preferred Alter­nat­ive," probably in the summer of 2023, at which point they'd begin property acquisition. They'll hire an independent appraiser, with whom we can meet, and they'll make an offer based on that, which will also detail how much of the property they will take. We can counteroffer, but a TxDOT evaluation team will determine the final offer, and if we don't accept it, they start the legal condemnation process by filing a lawsuit to acquire the property, and that's when the eminent domain attorneys start making money. (Hmmm, hizzoner the mayor's term will be up by then, and this is his legal field, isn't it?)

However that works out, construction is slated to begin in 2025, so we'd have to be out before then – with possible reimbursement for "reasonable moving costs and related expenses."

So that's pretty much where we stand, along with owners and tenants of about 150 other properties up and down the Capital Express Central corridor. It's a little less than two years until we find out if this is really happening – and it certainly appears they're heavily weighted toward yes, judging by the metrics table on their Alternatives Evaluation Process page (capexcentral.mobility35openhouse.com) – and then maybe two years more before construction begins and buildings start coming down. Meanwhile, we ponder our options and wait and see, like everyone else.

Send gossip, dirt, innuendo, rumors, and other useful grist to nbarbaro@austinchronicle.com.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

I-35, eminent domain, TxDOT, Capital Express Central

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