Freemasons fight City Hall

Everett’s plan for temple isn’t legal, they say

By Theresa Goffredo

Herald Writer

EVERETT — It turns out the 20 feet didn’t matter anyway.

So say members of the Ancient Scottish Rite of Freemasons, who claim the city planned on evicting them from their 91-year-old temple even if a planned $75 million special events center was moved to save the building.

The freemasons originally rejoiced when they heard the city was thinking about moving the events center 20 feet. The fraternal group thought the temple would be spared and they’d keep their meeting place.

But they now believe the city plans on evicting them and renting out the temple to other groups, no matter where the events center goes.

"Personally," temple officer Jerry Kunkle said of city leaders, "I don’t think they can be trusted."

The freemasons, who have met at their temple on Oakes Avenue for 78 years, made that claim and several others in legal documents filed in Snohomish County Superior Court Monday.

The documents could rekindle an issue supposedly put to rest Nov. 26 when the freemasons and six other property owners decided not to fight a legal battle with the city against its power of eminent domain. The city sued the downtown owners to condemn their buildings and remove them for public use.

That public use is the proposed arena for hockey and special events. Planned to be built at the corner of Hewitt Avenue and Broadway, the arena is expected to revitalize downtown Everett and provide local entertainment with 8,000 seats for hockey and 10,000 seats for concerts. The arena will be paid for largely by a state-mandated sales tax rebate.

The freemasons decided at that November hearing not to fight the condemnation process. But much has changed since then, including what will ultimately happen to the Scottish Rite Temple, said the freemasons’ attorney, Tom Adams.

Though the Everett council voted on Dec.12 to demolish the temple, Adams maintains in his legal motion that the city and public facilities district, set up to operate the arena once its built, still intends to lease the temple out for private use. The state constitution prohibits such an arrangement, Adams wrote.

"The planned use of the Scottish Rite Temple is entirely a private use," Adams wrote. "The fact that the lease/rental of the temple to private groups is accompanied by the city or PFD does not convert the private use to a public use. The use is the same use currently made of the property by the Scottish Rite."

Walter Tabler, of the Seattle law firm Graham &Dunne and hired by the city as lead counsel in condemnation process, didn’t return a phone call Tuesday. He has maintained the city has an obvious public use case.

Adams also claimed that because the public facilities district at one point suggested that the arena could be moved 20 feet to the save the Scottish temple, that means demolition of the temple isn’t necessary to build the arena. The city council went too far in condemning the Scottish temple, Adams wrote.

"Excess condemnation is the acquisition by the government through eminent domain of more property than is directly necessary for public improvement," Adams wrote. "Washington’s constitution prohibits excess condemnation."

Also, Adams claims, when the matter of whether to save the temple came up during the Dec. 12 city council hearing, the council made an "arbitrary and capricious" decision to demolish the temple because the council didn’t discuss the issue and didn’t allow any public testimony.

"It was evident to the casual observer that the city council had discussed and decided the issue among themselves, but not on the public record," Adams wrote.

The freemasons are asking for another hearing on the issue of whether the city can condemn their building for public use. That hearing is set for Dec.28.

You can call Herald Writer Theresa Goffredo at 425-339-3097

or send e-mail to goffredo@heraldnet.com.

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