DYER — The homeowners at the center of a right-of-way dispute with Lake County said Friday they have reached a tentative agreement, clearing the way for the highway department to proceed with replacing a bridge over a flood-prone creek.
Dyer residents Dan and Carol Szymanski had been embroiled in negotiations with the Lake County Highway Department, which wants to demolish their home on Hart Street as part of a project to raise and widen a 50-year-old bridge spanning Hart Ditch, also known as Plum Creek.
The highway department first notified the Szymanskis and other homeowners that “there will be impacts to your properties” in a letter last summer. The county later notified them it wanted to acquire their entire 125 foot by 150 foot parcel, plus two other nearby homes.
In December, the county offered the Szymanskis $170,000 for their home, a figure they considered far below market value given the more than $100,000 in home improvements they’ve made since 1993. The couple responded with a counteroffer of $250,000, touching off protracted negotiations over a mutually acceptable price.
Earlier this month, the county increased its original offer to $230,000, according to Carol Szymanski. The family intends to accept the offer and buy another home in Dyer about three miles from their current home, she said.
Although the Szymanski home lies within the Dyer town limits, the county is purchasing it because it is responsible for more than 130 bridges all over Lake County. The county also manages about 600 miles of drainage ditches — including Hart Ditch, which runs along the Szymanski property.
Lake County Commissioner Jerry Tippy, R-Schererville, intervened in the Szymanski case in January, suspending work on the project pending further meetings with the family and highway department officials. At the time, Tippy said he wanted to ensure the county had a “very good reason” before invoking eminent domain against the Szymanskis.
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Carol Szymanski praised Tippy for mediating the dispute and for “his compassion for our circumstances.”
“He assembled the team and held a meeting with us, ensuring we were listened to and informed of all of the plans and reasons decisions were being made,” she said Friday in an email to The Times. “Everyone on the team was forthcoming with the plans and timelines for the project.”
The Szymanski case was unique because of the “extenuating circumstances” involving previous work on their home, Tippy told The Times. County officials adjusted their initial offer after meeting with the couple and reviewing the equity improvements, he said.
“We asked them for a list of [improvements] they did,” Tippy said. “And there was quite a bit.”
The Szymanskis were further swayed after county highway officials described the extent of the Hart Ditch project, according to Tippy. In addition to the bridge replacement, the project includes future flood control measures along the waterway that would affect the Syzmanski property.
“They realized it was the right thing to do to reach a deal with [the county],” Tippy said, cautioning that the agreement still needs final approval from the Board of Commissioners.
A final vote on the deal is expected to be on the commissioners’ agenda at their public meeting on March 20.