Norfolk church claims VDOT construction caused permanent damage

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NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Church vs. state. A Norfolk church says VDOT damaged their property, and now they want the state to pay up more money than what’s already been given.

The controversy involves the Interstate 64-264 interchange and road widening.

Coastal Virginia Church on S. Newtown Road says it is inconvenienced by the 64-264 interchange construction and widening, and so are the children of the community. 

“We have hosted soccer leagues on this field to grow the church for many, many, years,” said Lead Pastor Brandon Hester.

Not only soccer, the church had part of the property rezoned to build up to nine homes to financially support the church in case the church ran into tough times.  Hester claims those lots are impacted by the VDOT project, “They’ve already taken so many lots from us.  With the lots remaining, the interstate is going to back right up to them.  The lots  will be so short no one will want to build a house on that.”

Hester says pointing to the land that is covered with construction equipment.

VDOT sent this email calling it a temporary construction easement, that will be returned to its original condition in 2019:

There is one issue left to be resolved with this church-a temporary construction easement on part of the property.
 
In response to their initial concerns, VDOT redesigned the project to eliminate permanent drainage and utility easements.
 
VDOT has agreed to mediation on June 26th.
 
VDOT will return the property to its original condition upon completion of the first phase of the I-264/I-64 interchange project in 2019.

Church leaders say that is impossible, and there’s a stormwater runoff pond now built into the property where four houses could have gone.

“We understand the project, and why they are doing what they are doing. What we don’t like is to be pushed around and bullied around during this process, spending a whole lot of money to fight for what we believe is just and fair.” 

VDOT gave the church $495,000 for what it calls a temporary easement, and the land will be returned to the church next year. The church says that’s not nearly enough to cover the damage to the property. 

10 On Your Side asked Hester why he took the $495,000 if he wasn’t pleased with what VDOT wanted.

“We had no choice … VDOT is able to push people around because it is a tough process to fight.  If you don’t have the means to fight you have to accept it…we took what they gave us, not happy, knowing we could always handle this in court … we are absolutely deserving of more money,” Hester said. 

Hester and Executive Pastor Essex Moore argue since construction began church attendance is down, contributions are off by $250,000 a year, and 200 children have dwindles to just 90, “We built this field for the community and now they aren’t coming because they don’t want their kids near that …construction,” Moore said, pointing to what is a muddy construction staging area with dirt, gravel, equipment and supplies.

The church’s attorney Brian Kunze will argue in court the damage is permanent, and perhaps $1.3 million more is needed to make things right.

“It’s now a muddy lay down.  It is torn up. VDOT has had materials and equipment out there 24 hours a day.” 

Essex adds, “We didn’t have a choice, that’s what they said.  Their offer ($495,000) is what they are standing by, and we’re just saying come back to us, to the table and be fair with us.”

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