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City authorizes use of eminent domain for N.E. 85th Street project

The Kirkland City Council will allow the city to acquire specific land for the $14 million N.E. 85th Street Corridor Improvement project using the eminent domain law, if needed.

In a 6-1 vote on June 15, Councilmember Dave Asher was the only no vote.

“I can assure you that all of the property owners have been contacted multiple times,” Interim Kirkland City Manager Marylinne Beard told the council. “We have made some progress but this gives us the ability to go forward with the eminent domain process if we need to. More often than not it is not necessary and we will continue to negotiate terms with these property owners.”

Most of the land acquisitions are small portions of the property near the street that the city needs to widen the corridor. All of the properties in question are commercial in nature.

The project, which is the largest in city history, spans from 114th Ave. N.E., under the 405 overpass and up to 132nd Ave. N.E. at the Redmond City border, will balance access for cars and buses and provide coordinated streetscape improvements. The project is scheduled for completion in 2012. Sound Transit is contributing $3.7 million to the project, which will improve access for riders of Route 248.

Notices for the acquisition of the land went out on May 27 and Interim Capital Projects Manager Dave Snider said that the city began receiving a lot of phone calls. As of the meeting, the city had signed agreements with nine property owners to purchase the needed land. Sneider said that there was still more than 20 that need to be acquired for the project.

“We are optimistic but I don’t think we will get all 20,” said Sneider. “... we don’t want to have to go to court but passing the ordinance will allows us that opportunity.”

Asher’s primary concern with the ordinance was that eminent domain would be used at haste in the process.

“I can understand if ... you said these are the ones we just can’t workout,” said Asher. “I think that eminent domain is a four letter word.”

Sneider replied that there have been multiple attempts to contact and negotiate with property owners.

“Eminent domain protects the property owner and guarantees them a fair and equitable price for their property,” said Sneider. “But it also guarantees the city and taxpayers that we will not overpay for something.”

Sneider also assured the council that none of the property owners are being denied access to driveways through this process.

Sternoff asked why there has been success in contacting and negotiating with some property owners and not others.

“Some people are not necessarily in favor of the project and they think if they just ignore it, it will go away and that is not going to happen,” said Sneider, who is optimistic that the land issues can be settled by the end of the year.

Eminent domain refers to the power possessed by the city over all property within its boundaries, specifically its power to appropriate property for a public use. Through the eminent domain law, upheld by the Supreme Court in 2005, if a municipality cannot negotiate a fair purchase price for a property needed for the public use or the property owner does not wish to sell, the city may exercise its right to purchase the land for public use through a court action. The government must show that it has attempted to negotiate the purchase with the owner and why it is needed for public use. If successful the court will decide a fair purchase price for the land.

Some of the issues with property owners range from values of property to driveway impacts.

“People come in with their own ideas of what the property is worth, not many have come with proof of that, it is usually just what they feel their property is worth,” said Sneider. “(The ordinance) will just ratchet up the idea that we all need to come to the table and reach a solution.”

Sternoff questioned whether the city was being flexible in the negotiations and Snieder said that the city has made some concessions during negotiations to try and help the landowners.

Councilmember Jessica Greenway said that it is only the second time in six years that the council has authorized eminent domain use in Kirkland.

The City Council authorized the use of eminent domain earlier this year for the NE 68th Street/108th Avenue NE Intersection Improvement Project. The city has authorized the use of eminent domain in four prior instances, all occurred between 1999 and 2003.

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