Cheryl McDonald built her Geico franchise from nothing to a half-million dollar business. Recently, the Texas Department of Transportation came calling to tell her she will need to move it out of their way.
The Geico managing agent is one of 500 property owners along the planned path for the expansion of Interstate 35E. TxDOT sent letters to all the owners to begin the process of acquiring their land for construction.
“The way it’s working [is] that from my property and north of here is part of the Phase 2 acquisition. Because they wanted to purchase property with today’s dollars instead of waiting seven years, we’re given the opportunity to opt in with that program,” McDonald said.
Phase 1, which is scheduled to break ground this fall, will cover the highway from Interstate 635 in Dallas to U.S. Highway 380 in Denton, adding two reversible managed lanes and one general-purpose lane in each direction, mostly within the existing right of way. Phase 2 would involve adding two more managed lanes in each direction and reconstructing the frontage road and all bridges that cross I-35E. Phase 2 will begin once construction on the first phase is complete.
Donna Huerta, a spokeswoman for TxDOT, said that while she could confirm the letters going out to property owners, she could not say how many property owners have responded because it could affect the negotiation process.
County Judge Mary Horn noted that the expansion has put the fates of a number of businesses along the corridor in limbo.
“It’s good to get in contact with these people and advance the whole process with willing sellers,” Horn said. “I want everyone to realize the required process will be followed. It’s important to know that an outside appraiser is what is required, and we will get that done for everyone’s benefit as soon as possible.”
The letters did not include a specific offer; they were to open the door to negotiations with interested property owners, McDonald said.
She said she plans to opt in and let the process run its course.
McDonald said she opened her business in March 2007, working hard to establish the identity and brand, and is reluctant to move to another community.
“That’s something I am doing a lot of research on because my property is an iconic location. Everyone knows the yellow house on 35,” she said. “I am looking at actually moving the house back on the usable portion of the property — that might be an option versus relocating to another community.”
The property is 1.5 acres and TxDOT is looking to take 22,500 square feet in front of her business, McDonald said.
“I think if Geico had a preference, they would like us to move south of the bridge,” she said. “But I want to continue the business we have invested five or six years into creating.”
As for the expansion, McDonald said it should have happened a long time ago.
“We were aware it was going to happen when we purchased the property,” she said. “It’s going to have an impact on the business, there is no doubt about that. I am trying to do as much as possible to make sure it has a minimal impact.”
McDonald said that even with TxDOT acquiring the property, the actual construction won’t affect her property until the second phase begins, and that is five to seven years away.
“It gives me time to come up with the best plan of action and being proactive in making whatever changes I need to,” she said. “To me it’s win-win, but it’s all contingent on what kind of offer they make.”
BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.