Condemnation effort off

Snohomish drops plan to acquire farm property for trail and park

By LESLIE MORIARTY

Herald Writer

SNOHOMISH — Just what can $82,000 buy? In this case, it bought two years of expensive talk.

After investing more than $82,000 in condemnation costs to acquire 72 acres along the Snohomish River to be part of Snohomish’s trail and park system, the city has told the property owner it isn’t interested anymore.

"The city council decided it just wasn’t worth it to go forward," city manager Bill McDonald said. "It appeared certain that the matter was going to have to go to trial to be resolved, and the council didn’t want to go to the expense of a trial."

The 72 acres of corn and grasslands at the southeast end of the city is owned by longtime Snohomish farmer Edwin Stocker, who is known for his vegetable stand, pumpkin patch and petting zoo. The property has been in the family for three generations. Stocker didn’t like the price the city was offering.

When negotiations to purchase the property stalled in May 1998, the city council authorized the city manager to begin the process to condemn the property and take it at its appraised value.

That process has taken more than two years, McDonald said. During that time, McDonald estimates the city has spent at least $20,000 on attorneys fees. There also was city employees’ time, but those costs aren’t known, McDonald said.

By law, because it was a condemnation, the city also had to pay Stocker’s attorneys fees, and pay for two appraisals of his property.

On Tuesday, the council approved paying those bills, which amounted to $62,000, to Williams &amp Williams of Seattle for attorneys fees, appraisals and experts. It was paid from a city fund used to purchase property.

In doing so, the council also told Stocker the city was no longer interested.

"They made it as difficult as possible," McDonald said of Stocker and his lawyers.

Since the condemnation began, several new members have joined the council, McDonald said.

"If we had gone to trial, his (Stocker’s) attorney costs could have gone beyond $100,000," McDonald said. "The council didn’t want to spend any more money on this."

Also, McDonald said, after a bond measure to fund a riverfront trail failed early this year, the council began to look at changes in the master plan. Those changes may include rerouting the trail to make it shorter, and therefore less expensive. It could follow city streets north of the river, then follow the abandoned Burlington Northern railway line, ultimately connecting to the Centennial Trail in southeast Snohomish. The redesigned trail and adjacent parks would not cross the Stocker property.

McDonald said the city told Stocker that if, at some time in the future he was a "willing seller," the city would listen.

"But the level of interest is barely there at this point," McDonald said.

The last public offer by the city was $372,000, the value set by an independent Everett appraiser.

"The property is in a flood plain," McDonald said. "It can’t be developed. About all it can be used for is agriculture or recreation."

When the condemnation effort began, Stocker said the property was prime agricultural land, and he believed the city’s offer wasn’t fair. Although the Stocker family has never said publicly what price they want, they have said it is worth at least three times what the city was offering.

Stocker’s son, Keith, who works the farm with his father, said he is disappointed that the city wasted taxpayer money on condemnation proceedings.

"I’m happy that we were successful in defending ourselves, but I am also disappointed we had to do so against our own city government," Keith Stocker said.

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