NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — There’s a pitched battle going on between a local church and VDOT.
The pastor at First Baptist Church Norfolk says VDOT is low balling what they gave the church for taking property for a new off ramp from I-64 to I-264.
First Baptist Church Norfolk has a rich devout spiritual heritage.
Founded in 1805 at the corner of Westover and Moran Avenues in Norfolk, it was destroyed by fire in 1970, and was moved to the site on Kempsville Road. The church was completed in 1974, and the additions completed in 1987.
We met the pastor outside the back of the church where all the construction is going on. “Right there is where we do worship,” says First Baptist Pastor Eric Thomas. “Now there is a new history at First Baptist, and Pastor Thomas doesn’t like it.
“The distance between where the bridge will stop and the corner of our worship center is 54 feet,” he says, pointing at the bridge pier that will hold the new roadway when complete in October 2019.
VDOT’s $158 million 64-264 project includes the I-64 off-ramp onto I-264 going right by First Baptist Church. Pastor Thomas claims the project has damaged the property more than what VDOT has compensated the church.
“We believe this highway is so close to the corner of our sanctuary, it has harmed us with reaching new members,” Thomas said.
They even fear a car could leave the roadway crashing into the church, “Yes, I think people who come here believe that to be true.”
It goes to peace of mind. For the first time in the history of the church the summer bible school declined in attendance, and the pastor blames the VDOT project for keeping people away.
VDOT first gave the church $1.67 million, increasing it to $5.2 million based on VDOT’s appraisals. We asked Pastor Thomas whether he believes he was low balled by VDOT, “I do believe VDOT low balled us and VDOT has mistreated us because they are acting like this is no big deal,” Thomas told us.
He claims being low balled because the church’s own appraisal for property and damages is $21 million.
We asked Pastor Thomas why he accepted the two money payments from VDOT if he wasn’t satisfied with the amount, “We can’t do that. When VDOT gives you a certificate of take, they take the money and put it in the bank in escrow. That’s what they give us…and our only recourse is the court.”
Pastor Thomas says damages include tearing down and moving part of the church due to the roadway going in, and building a parking deck for lost parking spaces for the 2,500 member church. Both sides are dug in and the case is scheduled to go to court in May.
We contacted VDOT about Pastor Thomas’ statements, and VDOT Communications Manger Paula Miller responded:
The commonwealth has made every effort to accommodate the multiple requests of First Baptist Church, including substantial revisions to the original construction plans at substantial taxpayer expense.
VDOT remains engaged in attempts to address additional concerns of the landowner and is committed to seeking a satisfactory resolution for both the taxpayers and the landowner.