LAKE STEVENS — In a 5-2 vote, Lake Stevens City Council members Tuesday night approved plans to take easements totaling over 21,000 square feet from two West Lake Stevens neighborhoods.
It’s the final puzzle piece the city needed to move forward with plans to build the Powerline Trail — a 12-block paved trail connecting neighborhoods, play areas and a new dog park from 20th Street SE to Eighth Street SE. It will follow an existing dirt utility road beneath high-tension power lines.
The city sent letters asking homeowners to sign easement agreements last fall, but only nine of 57 property owners from the Willowood and Quail Court neighborhoods signed, said Jill Meis, city parks planning and development coordinator.
By signing easement agreements, homeowners agreed to give the city a portion of their neighborhood’s open space. The city valued each of the 33 Quail Court property owners’ share of a 3,733-square-foot field behind their homes on 88th Drive SE at about $10.
Willowood residents received a similar letter, stating that each owner has an equal $41.67 share in the 17,956-square-foot easement through their neighborhood tract.
Property owners in both neighborhoods were offered $100 for signing the agreement within 30 days of receiving the letter.
Those that didn’t sign were sent a notice of intent to condemn in February.
“They basically said we could cash out at $100 each and sign, or they could forcefully take it,” Quail Court resident Stephanie Steffan told The Daily Herald.
She said she signed so she didn’t lose out on the money.
Local governments can seize properties if they prove that the use is public, that public interest requires it and that the property is necessary for that purpose.
The Powerline Trail would fufill some residents’ needs shared in a 2019 survey, Meis said. A majority of survey respondents said they believe the city needs more pedestrian trails, and they want more parks within a mile or two of their homes.
The city was hoping to complete the trail by the end of the year, Meis told The Herald in January.
Condemnation “is a necessary step in order for us to be able to proceed,” said Lake Stevens City Attorney Greg Rubstello. “Hopefully we won’t have property owners attempting to contest the condemnation.”
He said the city didn’t receive any “significant” protest from property owners throughout the public outreach process.
Willowood resident Kurtice Poole said his biggest issue with the construction of the trail is losing access to the utility road behind his house.
He said he typically uses the road to bring lumber into his backyard for projects, and to move his utility trailer.
He did not sign the easement agreement.
Steffan, who did sign the agreement, said she brought a host of concerns to public meetings, the biggest being an increase in pedestrian and vehicle traffic in her neighborhood.
She and others from the Quail Court neighborhood were also concerned about noise coming from a new dog park, and the loss of open space for wildlife.
In response to residents’ concerns, the city’s design included a wider natural vegetation buffer between the dog park and homes, and an extra parking lot along 12th Street to ease the pressure on homes near 20th Street.
Meis told council members she feels the city answered “a lot of the questions from the neighborhoods.”
Public outreach began with doorbelling in February 2020 and continued through virtual open houses that fall and again last summer.
Some Quail Court residents said they felt they did not have enough opportunity to give feedback.
Meis said nobody from the Willowood neighborhood attended the online open house for the project.
Poole said he wasn’t aware of a virtual open house.
But on June 2, 2021, Poole and his neighbors received a letter that offered a city service in exchange for an easement.
“The City would like to propose the opportunity … to grant the Westside Trail easement to the City in exchange for the City managing the maintenance of Tract 999, (stormwater) detention pond,” the letter states.
Poole said that letter included an invitation to an in-person open house later that month. About seven of his neighbors attended.
There, city officials “basically told us everything we wanted to hear,” he said. But only two households from his neighborhood signed the easement agreement for the property the city needed for the Powerline Trail.
Poole said he and his wife moved to the neighborhood in 2003 because of the privacy.
“We don’t have neighbors next to us real close,” he said. “When we bought, this was unincorporated Snohomish County … that was really nice just because we didn’t have to deal with the city of Lake Stevens.”
After Councilmember Anji Jorstad asked for clarification about how many households didn’t sign easement agreements, she and Mary Dickinson were the lone votes against condemning the property.
“Our hands are tied,” Poole said. “I’m not gonna drain my savings my account. … It’s government. I know how it goes.”