Body shop owner is last holdout against Route 28 expansion

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On his fingers, William Lieberth Sr. ticks off a list of what used to be near his Allegheny Auto Body shop on East Ohio Street. There were gas stations, restaurants and other auto repair shops.

"It was a community here," Mr. Lieberth said.

Now his North Side shop -- an orange building that's hard to miss with its large "SAVE YOUR DEDUCTIBLE" sign -- is the last business left along that stretch of Route 28.

The community Mr. Lieberth remembers has given way to the ongoing road expansion, and by Aug. 6, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has said Mr. Lieberth also must relocate so the road construction project can continue as planned.

"But I have no intention of leaving," he said this week, as he sat in his shop, the sound of cars speeding by audible from within his office.

In a community that has seen substantial changes, Mr. Lieberth wants his business to be the place that remains.

The 56-year-old business owner lives in West Deer now, but Mr. Lieberth, who comes from a family of German immigrants, said he is "from the fiber" of the Spring Hill and Troy Hill areas along East Ohio Street.

Near his shop, a pedestrian walkway across the road is named after his father, Charles J. Lieberth, who was appointed state secretary of labor and industry in 1979.

It was Charles Lieberth who in 1976 purchased the 7,000-square-foot Allegheny Auto Body shop and adjoining 7,000-square-foot parking lot, located at 1306-1308-1310 East Ohio Street. He passed it on to his son, who planned to pass it on to his own 36-year-old son when he retired.

That plan was upended in late 2006, when PennDOT began the process of acquiring the properties needed to widen Route 28. Since then, 15 residences and 24 businesses have been relocated, most of them with amicable settlements, District 11 spokesman Jim Struzzi said in an email.

The agency first contacted Mr. Lieberth about acquiring his property and relocating his business in March 2007, Mr. Struzzi wrote. No agreement was reached in the ensuing years, and on Nov. 11, 2011, PennDOT paid Mr. Lieberth a $115,000 Estimated Just Compensation for his property, including liens, and took ownership.

PennDOT sent Mr. Lieberth a letter on July 5 stating that he must vacate the building by Aug. 6 so the road work can proceed.

Mr. Lieberth said he can return PennDOT's check and that he plans to stay in his building. He argues that PennDOT can build around him because in 2003 the agency shifted its expansion of the road to avoid St. Nicholas Church, the auto shop's neighbor.

But the plan still requires use of Mr. Lieberth's property, Mr. Struzzi said, adding that PennDOT plans to restrict access to and from the East Ohio Street section of Route 28 for operational and safety reasons. With the exception of the church, Mr. Lieberth is the only remaining business property parcel along the stretch of road.

Mr. Lieberth sent a letter last week to Gov. Tom Corbett, asking that PennDOT either build around him, give him enough money to retire or let him move his business to a lot nearby. The governor's press office did not return requests for a comment.

Meanwhile, there's a dispute over the value of the property, and both Mr. Lieberth and PennDOT have appealed the case to the Board of Viewers. The board, located within the Court of Common Pleas, handles appeals of property assessments.

If Mr. Lieberth does not vacate his building by Aug. 6, Mr. Struzzi said PennDOT will file a legal petition to begin eviction proceedings.

From his perch beside the growing roadway, Mr. Lieberth said the auto shop is where he feels calm and at peace. It is his home.

And, he added, he doesn't want to move from a location where he has a monopoly -- where he said he has more business than he can handle -- to a site where his auto body business has competition.

"I'm not going to let them take it," he said.

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Kaitlynn Riely: 412-263-1707 This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to:


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