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State nears final tract for I-65 exit

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With more than six months until construction starts, the state is working to buy one final property needed for a new Interstate 65 exit in Greenwood.

The interchange project required properties from 15 landowners near Worthsville Road and I-65, where a new entrance to the city is planned. Over the past year, the state has purchased 14 of those properties after filing lawsuits and negotiating with landowners.

Now, one property is left, and appraisals are due back to the court by Aug. 11 — one of the final steps in eminent domain, a court process the government uses to force owners to sell their land for public projects.

With most of the properties purchased, the Indiana Department of Transportation plans to start construction on the $22 million interchange in the spring.

Demolition at the properties, which included three homes and multiple barns, could begin this fall after the state hires a contractor, INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said.

Construction was previously pushed back a year due to delays in buying the properties. The city of Greenwood is paying for $11 million of the project, and the state is paying for $11 million or more. The city plans to make the area around the interchange a new entrance into Greenwood, with high-end homes and offices.

In 2013, the state began contacting landowners whose property was needed for the interchange project. The state filed eminent domain lawsuits against the property owners who did not want to sell. If a judge decides a property is necessary for state use, then landowners are ordered to sell through the eminent domain process for a price determined by court-appointed appraisers.

Earlier this year, Greenwood resident Don Devore and an Illinois-based group were among five property owners who hadn’t agreed to sell their land and who delayed construction from starting.

Devore accepted a deal this month, leaving only the group from Illinois. Owners Michael Wachstetter, Norman Wachstetter and Marcy Taylor are holding out on selling. The state has tried to negotiate with them to buy four sections of the 38 acres they own in Greenwood, offering $307,100 for the land. The owners and attorney Tom Vander Luitgaren could not be reached for comment.

They haven’t accepted the offer. In April, the group filed a document in a Johnson County court, saying that the state doesn’t have jurisdiction over the case because it didn’t properly notify each owner about the lawsuit and also didn’t explain how buying chunks of their land is beneficial. A judge ordered appraisers to look at the land, proceeding with the eminent domain process.

The court-appointed appraisers are scheduled to report back soon with an estimate for how much the state has to pay for the acreage. If the owners don’t agree to the appraised price, the case could go to a jury trial.

Devore ended his eminent domain case this month by accepting an offer of $150,000 for nearly 5 acres along Worthsville Road, where he keeps cattle. As part of the agreement, the state is building Devore a new driveway so he can continue to access the approximately 30 acres of land he still owns near the site of the future interchange, attorney Dustin Huddleston said.

The state previously bought Devore’s home, in addition to the 5 acres it is buying now. In 2013, Devore accepted a purchase price of $150,975 for the house and detached garage. The interchange was designed to run directly through the Devore property, forcing him to give up his family’s farm of more than 100 years.

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