PORTER | When Jill Field bought her home 10 years ago, she never expected to one day find a bridge going right through her yard.
Despite promises and battles with Porter planners over the years, she feels powerless to do anything to prevent it, especially now that the town has begun condemnation procedures, she said.
Field’s home on the corner of Howe Road and U.S. 20 lies in the path of the Porter Brickyard Trail. The trail has been in the works for years, even before Field bought her home, and is now coming to fruition.
“The Realtor didn’t disclose trail plans to me, but I realized it would be a losing battle to sue and I don’t have the money to do that,” Field said.
In 2009, the Porter Redevelopment Commission’s plans changed from a tunnel, which would go next to her yard, to a bridge because commission members found it would be more cost-effective. That’s when Field grew even more concerned about privacy, she said.
“They started removing trees, and the trail goes right through the middle of my property,” she said.
Field said town officials, who are no longer employed by the town, told her they would “work around it” and put up trees to block the bridge. They had to wait to reassess the property once the bridge was built “and they never did," she said.
The offer Field received from the town to purchase right of way through her yard was not acceptable, she said.
“The offer was completely an insult, and I’m not allowed to say what it was, but there was also nothing in the offer about putting up a barrier to the bridge — a wall or 24-foot trees, as I was promised by (the Indiana Department of Transportation)," she said. "I gave them a counter offer, one with a monetary offer with trees, one with a monetary offer with a wall.
"They doubled their measly offer and still no blockage, so I said no. Now the town engineer said they’re going to condemn my property.”
Greg Stinson, Porter Town Council president, said he feels sad for Field’s situation but her Realtor should have told her about it. He said the town has been fair to her.
“It’s one of those situations that she didn’t know, but it was a private land purchase between her and a seller. The trail was already in the planning stage by the time she purchased her home.
"The offer for purchasing right of way on her property was based on independent appraisers. Because it was an INDOT project, we had nothing to do with it and they had independent appraisals and it was fair market value," Stinson said. "The reason it has gone the way it has now is because of her idea of what it’s worth, and there’s no way it seems we can compromise."
He said the trees and wall would exponentially increase the cost to taxpayers.
“We have no written record anywhere saying we would put up a barrier. Nothing has been touched on her property. Trees that have been taken down were on town property, not hers," Stinson said.
"It is clear she wants us to spend more money and we want to be fair to our residents, but we can’t overpay. This is public money," he said. "I could say it would be nice for us to do it, but it’s not my money. If an independent appraiser tells us this is what the parcel is worth, we can’t turn around and overpay for it because you don’t like the fact that it was in the works."
Stinson said the next step is to condemn the property and the matter will be decided in court.
“Condemnation proceedings are never something we want to do," Stinson said. "It’s never a good thing when the town government has to go to court with its residents, but at the same time we also serve the broader public good, and these trails are seen as adding a lot of value to the people of the town and the greater community as well.”
Field said she’s upset it has reached this point, but when it comes to her privacy, her property value and the value of her neighbor’s property, she has no choice.
“I can’t quit fighting. I just can’t do it. It’s not about money, it’s about doing the right thing,” Field said.