Last business in Route 28 work zone in Pittsburgh evicted
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The phone rang in his auto repair shop Monday morning on the North Side, but William Lieberth Sr. didn't answer it.
The knock on the door, though, was harder to ignore.
Just after 10 a.m., sheriff's deputies arrived at Allegheny Auto Body on Route 28 to evict Mr. Lieberth from the business his family has owned for nearly four decades.
They took his keys and handed him a check from PennDOT, Mr. Lieberth said, then told him to remove the things he had left. His fight to keep his business despite an expansion project on Route 28 is over.
For about an hour, Mr. Lieberth, 56, of West Deer, with his wife, Kristine, and their sons -- Bill Jr. and Curt -- shuffled between the East Ohio Street property and their three cars, removing tools, paperwork, a large sign bearing his shop's name, and the other items that accumulate when a person spends 37 years working in the same place.
As sheriff's deputies stood watch, a tow truck arrived to take away the last car serviced at Allegheny Auto Body, a 1990 GMC Jimmy truck with a broken transmission owned by Mr. Lieberth. Bill Lieberth Jr., 35, completed the truck's red and white paint job on Friday.
"It's government taking private property," William Lieberth Sr. said.
In his red and black checkered flannel shirt, he stood outside his shop Monday morning as cars raced down the road that he said was the source of so much business.
Now, that road is the reason he is leaving. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is in the midst of a project to expand Route 28, and in late 2013 the construction phase requiring Mr. Lieberth's property will begin, according to a PennDOT spokesman.
The agency first contacted Mr. Lieberth in 2007 about acquiring his 7,000-square-foot shop and 7,000-square-foot adjacent parking lots. Since 2006, PennDOT has reached relocation agreements with 15 other residences and 24 businesses along Route 28, but Mr. Lieberth refused to go.
In November 2011, PennDOT took ownership of the property by eminent domain and sent Mr. Lieberth $120,000.
A dispute about the value of the property in April went to the Board of Viewers, a board within the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas that handles appeals of property assessments. The board determined the value to be $215,000.
Mr. Lieberth and PennDOT each appealed, but in July, PennDOT sent Mr. Lieberth a letter stating he must vacate the building by Aug. 6 so roadwork can proceed.
An attorney for Mr. Lieberth reached a settlement with PennDOT in August, agreeing to a total payment of $245,000 and a delay in vacating the property until Oct. 1. Mr. Lieberth maintains that he never agreed to the settlement.
But three weeks ago, an Allegheny County judge ordered him to accept the settlement, pay his former attorney his fee of more than $30,000 and vacate his business by or on Oct. 1.
Mr. Lieberth told the Post-Gazette last month that he planned to continue fighting for his building, and that he would "consider it an honor" to die for it. Although he planned to appeal the judge's order, Mr. Lieberth said Monday he realized he couldn't afford the costs of an appeal.
In light of Mr. Lieberth's comments to the media and in court, Sheriff William Mullen said in a telephone interview that he decided to "err on the side of caution" and send about eight deputies as well as a bomb-sniffing dog to the property. He said Mr. Lieberth and his family were cooperative, saying there was "no animosity."
"We prepared for the worst, and everything turned out OK," he said.
The deputies took his keys, which they later turned over to PennDOT, and gave Mr. Lieberth a check from PennDOT for $97,237.94, an amount Mr. Lieberth said is still short of what he is owed.
A spokesman for PennDOT said there is no more money due to Mr. Lieberth, unless he incurs relocation expenses.
As he prepared to depart Route 28 on Monday, Mr. Lieberth said he is, for the moment, out of business. He is still exploring options for where to move Allegheny Auto Body.
Bill Lieberth Jr., who once thought he'd be able to pass the business on to his own sons, said he didn't know what his future would hold now.
He was sure about one thing, though, when it came to construction on Route 28.
"Once they are done with this, I'm not even driving on this road," he said. "It's going to be such a mess."
First Published October 2, 2012 12:00 am