Houses along 88th Drive SE in Lake Stevens are visible from the planned Powerline Trail. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Houses along 88th Drive SE in Lake Stevens are visible from the planned Powerline Trail. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Lake Stevens uses eminent domain to build new Powerline Trail

The city is taking residents to court over easements totaling over 21,000 square feet in two neighborhoods.

LAKE STEVENS — A city’s wish to build a paved recreational trail is in court.

The city of Lake Stevens filed two petitions to condemn, or take, easements totaling over 21,000 square feet from two West Lake Stevens neighborhoods last week.

Over 70 people residing in the Quail Court and Willowood neighborhoods are listed as respondents.

In a 5-2 vote, Lake Stevens City Council approved plans to take the easements in March, allowing the city to move ahead with plans to build the Powerline Trail. When complete, the 12-block paved trail will connect neighborhoods, play areas and a new dog park from 20th Street SE to Eighth Street SE.

The trail will follow an existing dirt utility road beneath high-tension power lines.

Local governments have the power to take property necessary for a public use under eminent domain. But first, for a court to determine the condemnation is lawful, government officials must prove the use is really public, the public interest requires it, and the property appropriated is necessary for that purpose.

More commonly, eminent domain is used by public agencies for necessary utility upgrades like replacing a power pole, installing a new stormwater system or acquiring land to build facilities.

For the city of Lake Stevens, the Powerline Trail would address some residents’ needs shared in a 2019 survey, said Jill Meis, city parks planning and development coordinator. 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.

There was a lengthy public outreach process leading up to condemnation proceedings. Earlier this year, Meis told The Daily Herald she doesn’t take condemnation “lightly.”

The city was hoping residents would instead sign easement agreements, Meis said. 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.

The city first sent letters asking homeowners to sign easement agreements last fall. Property owners in both neighborhoods were offered $100 for signing the agreement within 30 days of receiving the letter.

Only nine of 57 property owners from the Willowood and Quail Court neighborhoods signed.

Some of them shared concerns early in the public outreach process.

Quail Court resident Stephanie Steffan and Willowood resident Kurtice Poole each had concerns about the city’s plans for the utility road behind their homes.

Steffan worried the trail would compromise needed wildlife habitat and strain the neighborhood’s street parking access. She said she signed the easement agreement so she wouldn’t lose out on the $100 incentive.

Poole said he often uses the road to bring lumber into his backyard for projects and to move his utility trailer. He said city officials told him he’d lose the ability to drive on the road after the trail is completed.

He didn’t sign the easement agreement and now he’s listed as a respondent in the condemnation petition. He said he’s “not going to drain his savings account” to fight it. “Our hands are tied,” he said.

All of the property owners that didn’t sign were sent a notice of intent to condemn in February.

“If any of the property owners wish to sign prior to next steps and be withheld from the acquisition proceeding they are still eligible to do so,” Meis said in an email to The Herald.

Condemnation “is a necessary step in order for us to be able to proceed,” said Lake Stevens City Attorney Greg Rubstello in March. “Hopefully we won’t have property owners attempting to contest the condemnation.”

Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @BredaIsabella.

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