EVERETT — The Everett School Board has reversed course and now agrees to pay moving expenses to property owners whose land is being seized to make way for a new high school in the fast-growing North Creek area near Bothell.
The board passed a motion on Tuesday that promises to consider costs “such as moving expenses and humanitarian concerns.” The vote was 5-0.
Last year, the board opted out of paying those costs when pursuing eminent domain, a move school officials said was in line with past practice.
“That was a big win, getting the moving expenses,” Bruce Gutschmidt, one of the affected homeowners, said Wednesday.
Gutschmidt and two other sets of neighbors along 174th Street SE have until late March to leave. Together, they own nearly 7 acres.
The school district last year decided to use condemnation power to take the land after buying surrounding properties from willing sellers. The district is trying to secure 44 acres for a new high school campus and elementary school. The schools would serve the southeastern part of the Everett district, home to some of the state’s most-rapid urban development and population growth.
The neighbors all say they appreciate the need for the new school. But they were upset about having to pay for a move they are being forced to make. A couple down the street from Gutschmidt who also need to leave just spent thousands of dollars moving horses and household belongings to a new home they bought in Monroe.
The school district’s action this week should help. The board acted after an executive session.
“The laws governing the processes of eminent domain were written to protect both property owners and public resources,” board president Caroline Mason said at the board meeting Tuesday. “However, laws don’t always reflect the difficulties people face when they are in the midst of legal processes. The process of eminent domain takes a toll on property owners, our community and families, and it is one of the most difficult decisions a governing body will ever face.”
Historically, school districts do not pay to relocate property owners during the eminent domain process unless they’re using federal money to buy the property, Everett schools officials say.
“Because of that history, we followed that precedent in our eminent domain process,” Mason said.
A week earlier, Gutschmidt showed up in person to implore board members to consider his moving hardships.
“Thank you for hearing my plea,” he told them.
The 57-year-old owns 1.9 acres jointly with a brother who lives in Alaska. They inherited the land from their father, who bought it 50 years ago.
Gutschmidt and his partner, Christine Messer, say they won’t be able to afford a comparable home anywhere nearby with the buyout money they’re likely to get.
“I’m definitely going to have to move out of state,” he said.
They’re considering Arizona.
Another dispute lingers about what Gutschmidt and his neighbors’ properties are worth. That question is scheduled for court in April if the sides can’t come to an agreement.
The discrepancy relates to the property’s rural R-5 zoning, which decreases development value. Land next door is zoned urban and can be worth several times more money. The homeowners believe that were it not for the school district’s demands, it would have only been a matter of time before their land was up-zoned.
The district has offered Gutschmidt $385,000, based on the rural zoning. He has presented an appraisal for $895,000. The district contends that amount assumes the land is already zoned for urban development, which it isn’t.
The Everett district’s fourth comprehensive high school would help relieve overcrowding.
The district’s next-closest high school, Henry M. Jackson high in Mill Creek, needs 17 portables to house the student body. The district was educating 19,887 students as of this fall. Enrollment was expected to grow by another 1,600 within a decade.
A Feb. 13 bond measure includes $216.8 million for the future high school.