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At Finch’s Family Restaurant, customers are greeted with hugs. No need for a menu. The regulars know the weekly specials by heart.
Chicken pastry, collards, country ham, grits and all the staples of southern home cooking are served at booths, tables and the long lunch counter overlooking posters and pictures from pre-70s Raleigh.
Patrons have flocked to Finch’s on Peace Street since 1945, but in less than a year, Finch’s will become another casualty of Raleigh’s burgeoning growth. The Capital Boulevard Bridge, whose retaining wall abuts Finch’s parking lot is in need of repair.
And Finch’s sits firmly in the path of progress.
After years of deliberation, contingency plans and public hearings, the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the City of Raleigh have agreed upon a plan.
Finch’s will be forced, by use of eminent domain, to relocate.
She didn’t want to sell
Eminent domain is the right of a government agency to acquire private property at fair market value for public use. Essentially eminent domain is the moment where, “We would like to buy this property,” becomes, “We are taking this property; here is compensation.”
According to NCDOT Communications Supervisor Steve Abbott, eminent domain is the last step and only taken when absolutely necessary.
But when Finch’s owner, Peggy Jin, didn’t want to sell, she started a common process.
As Abbott explains, “It becomes like a civil lawsuit; you make an offer and a counter offer. The only time eminent domain comes in is when you can’t come to an agreement and it’s determined it’s a piece of property that we have to have for a project.”
Do property owners have a say?
“Absolutely,” says Abbott. The DOT keeps a page on its website with ongoing projects and holds public meetings that discuss ongoing projects and encourage people to name roads and bridges that need work.
The goal is to find the most cost effective plan that will relocate the fewest businesses or homes. But in a city growing as quickly as Raleigh, necessary acquisition is often inevitable. When homes or businesses must be acquired, private property owners are notified and negotiations begin.
Who decides a fair price?
The DOT hires appraisers to determine a fair market value. Relocation costs, displacement costs and time costs are considered.
Private property owners can consult their own appraisers and attorneys to negotiate deals. In rare cases, when no agreement can be reached, eminent domain will come into play, and courts or mediators will have the final say.
Growth trumps tradition
Outside the window at Finch’s, trucks barrel over an aging bridge where deterioration is evident. No price has yet been agreed upon for the property, and Jin has not yet decided whether she’ll relocate or close.
As I sit drinking a bottomless coffee out of a Christmas mug that could’ve come from my grandma’s cabinet, I overhear customers discuss sitting in the same booth for decades, I wonder, “How do they assess the cost of shutting the doors of a 70-year-old family restaurant?”
How do you weigh the benefit of growth against the loss of tradition?
“The bridge on Capital Boulevard over Peace Street was built in 1948 and has a sufficiency rating of 42.9 out of a possible 100. With thousands of visitors in and out of downtown Raleigh everyday and the number continually growing, the project is vital.”
— From the NCDOT’s project page.
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