Legal battles begin over new county courthouse

EVERETT — There’s a row of law offices standing in the way of Snohomish County and a future courthouse.

On Monday, the County Council authorized spending $200,000 to hire more lawyers for its side.

They county is contracting with Pacifica Law Group of Seattle for what promises to be a high-stakes eminent domain process. The agreement runs through the end of the year.

The County Council originally considered building the courthouse on the present-day site of the plaza next to the 1960s courthouse that will be replaced.

In November, the council changed course and voted 3-2 to build the new justice center on Wall Street between Oakes and Rockefeller avenues. The site is across the street and about a block east of the current courthouse.

The new building will cost a projected $162 million, after adding in features for security and energy conservation, among others.

Most of the future building site is a county parking lot. To move forward with construction, the county must buy out a half-dozen business owners on the periphery — including three buildings used as law offices, a bail bond business and a legal messenger service.

It’s not clear how much the condemnations will cost the county, but it’s bound to be infinitely more complicated than looking up assessed property values.

One of the attorneys, Royce Ferguson, received a letter from Pacifica dated Jan. 23. It informed him of the county’s intent to acquire his office building “under threat of condemnation.”

The county “intends to make a written offer to purchase the property early in 2014,” the letter states.

Ferguson, whose office has been in the same place for two decades, reacted by painting the side of his building with an-impossible-to-miss message: “Building for sale $1,750,000 (includes plans &dreams) No taxpayer borrowing!”

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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