From left, Matt Mosteller, holding Montana Mosteller, Lindsay Mosteller, holding Sequoia Mosteller, and Steven Hailey. The family had to sell their recently purchased house because Snohomish County needs the land for a project that widens 43rd Avenue near Bothell. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

From left, Matt Mosteller, holding Montana Mosteller, Lindsay Mosteller, holding Sequoia Mosteller, and Steven Hailey. The family had to sell their recently purchased house because Snohomish County needs the land for a project that widens 43rd Avenue near Bothell. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Family loses newly purchased dream home to eminent domain

Lindsey and Matt Mosteller bought their Bothell-area house in January 2020. Now the county needs the land.

BOTHELL — When Lindsay and Matt Mosteller bought their Bothell-area home in January 2020, they planned to live there forever.

The 0.86-acre property with a four-bedroom house has a big garden, an old barn and room for goats and chickens. The couple saw potential for their growing family. In addition to their 11-year-old, Steven Hailey, Lindsay gave birth to daughter Montana Mosteller four days after closing the deal.

“We were really excited,” she said.

There was one hitch. The property included a 30-foot right of way — land dedicated to a public works project — from the 1970s.

“What are the odds this right of way is going to be used?” Mosteller said.

About a month after the family moved into their new home, they received notice that the Snohomish County Public Works Department was moving forward with a project to widen 43rd Avenue, add a stretch of new road and install two roundabouts.

To do so, the county would need to acquire part of their property, along with pieces of about 75 other parcels.

“We thought it might get close to the barn, but hopefully not,” Mosteller said. “Never in our wildest dreams did we think they’d take our whole property.”

In July, they were told the county would need to buy the entire lot, along with another property, via eminent domain for two new stormwater detention systems.

They stopped unpacking.

County staff told them an appraiser would visit their property soon.

“At first, it sounded like it’d be a couple of months,” Mosteller said. “We continued to not unpack. We had necessities unpacked, like, my clothes are still in boxes.”

The independent appraiser arrived in March — about eight months after the Mostellers were notified they’d need to move.

The delay was partially due to stoppages associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, said Jane Anderson, the county’s right-of-way supervisor.

A few weeks later, the Mostellers received the county’s initial offer.

“At that point, I was 35 weeks pregnant, I was really tired, and we didn’t want to move,” Mosteller said. “We bought this place thinking we were going to be here forever.”

In August, weeks after the couple welcomed their third child, they reached agreement with the county to buy their home. The deal should be completed by the end of the month.

“It’s as stressful as ever,” Mosteller said. “Now we have to actually find somewhere to go.”

The process

In most instances, public works projects only require slivers of private property, engineering services design manager Charlie Green said.

Entire parcel purchases are rare, he added. The last one in Snohomish County occurred in 2014.

For the most part, county planners do as much as they can to avoid needing to buy someone’s home, Green said.

“It is something we try to consider as much as we can,” he said. “But we also have to consider the service of the entire citizenry of the county, so it’s a balance.”

Environmental protection policies can make that difficult, especially in urban areas.

That’s the case with the 43rd Avenue improvement. Nearby streams and wetlands narrowed the county’s options for where they could process stormwater.

The project has been in the works for nearly 20 years, said Doug McCormick, Snohomish County’s deputy director of public works.

As the local population grows, the roads need to keep up with increased traffic, he said.

Originally, Public Works staff planned to address the road improvements in the latter half of the county’s 20-year plan, issued in 2015.

However, the Bothell area, following the Great Recession, has experienced all 20 years of planned growth in about five, McCormick said.

Before Public Works staff can purchase part of someone’s property, or the entire parcel, planners must submit a proposal to the Snohomish County Council, which then holds public meetings on the project.

Once council members approve the plan, Public Works sends an independent consultant to the property who provides a fair-market-value appraisal.

If the county and property owner can’t agree on a price, the case goes to court.

Finding somewhere new

The Mostellers ramped up their search for another new home about five weeks ago.

Additionally, the county provides relocation specialists to help with the moving process.

“Our goal is to help them find and get them settled in to a new place, with as little disruption as possible,” Anderson said.

Ideally, they’d find a four-bedroom home to accommodate their three children, including nine-week-old Sequoia Mosteller, born in June. They also wanted to remain in the Northshore School District, to avoid switching schools for their 11-year-old son.

But with a low supply of houses and high demand, the couple has gone weeks without any homes meeting their basic requirements, she added.

And when possible homes pop up, they’re competing with other buyers.

“It’s hard,” she said. “The market is on fire. We made an offer $65,000 over the asking price but were still outbid. My real estate agent heard it went for $200,000 over asking.”

In the meantime, the family will rent their house from the county as the search continues.

“I guess we just wait and hope,” Mosteller said.

Joey Thompson: 425-339-3449; Twitter: @byjoeythompson.

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