MODESTO, Calif. — In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors moved to acquire eminent domain over three properties north of the city of Modesto to make way for a new 18-mile expressway.
The expressway, dubbed the North County Corridor Project, would bypass the cities of Modesto, Riverbank and Oakdale and connect State Route 99 to the eastern portion of Stanislaus County.
While the 61 public meetings concerning the project have been happening since 2008, the news that the county has decided to pave over their home came as a devastating shock Tuesday to Wolfgang and Victoria Bach who have lived near the intersection of Claribel and Oakdale Roads for 44 years, their attorney Gerald Brunn said.
"They're both in their 80s," said Brunn about the couple who met while studying at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "There are some health issues that they're challenged by and their daughter lives out of state so they're essentially devastated by the idea of losing their home because they have nowhere to go."
The Bachs are not alone. To begin the first phase of the project, the county voted in the same way regarding two other private properties in the proposed construction zone.
At least two other nearby property owners voiced their opposition to the construction project during Tuesday's meeting.
"This is probably the first time in a lot of people's lives where the governments knocked on their door and said, 'Hey, we need something from you,'" said David Leamon, Director of Stanislaus County's Public Works Department. "The Board of Supervisors is saying 'It's time. We really need to get this going so that we can build our project.' So I understand it's tough for an 80-year-old couple when they're in their home for 40 years."
Brunn and his clients believe the county could have explored more options or weighed the pros and cons better.
"Although they say they've considered all alternatives to taking their property, I don't think they have because if you look at a map, it's very clear, there are other ways to proceed with the project." said Brunn. "You have to weigh and balance this public good with the other question, which is what's the private injury. My clients are unique in that they will suffer far greater injury than the public good really justifies."
According to Leamon, the current construction plan — approved by seven governmental bodies — is the best one that developers could come up with. He cites the area's geography and underground piping that connects to the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir as the main reason why alternative plans have failed.
"Early on there were over a dozen alternatives and the project team narrowed it down to four alternatives," said Leamon. "Some of the alternatives had way more than 114 properties that were full takes, so this is the route that has the least impact. But there are people along the way that this is going to impact and we know that."
The Bach's attorney says that they are now in the process of analyzing the county's offer. He adds that while they do not want to, they will take the issue to court if needed to save the couple's 23 acres of land and hand-designed English Tudor-style home.
"This isn't about money at all. It's about people losing a 3,200-square-foot home," said Brunn. "The house is full of memories. They raised their child there. They've had family events there. Dr. Bach always dreamed of creating a facility for children to either learn or to attend classes there on the property."
Watch more Stanislaus County news from ABC10: Mistake during city construction project causes Hughson church, home to flood with cement