BOTHELL — Bruce Gutschmidt isn’t sure how he’s going to move.
He’s among the homeowners in the North Creek area whose property is being condemned by the Everett School District to make way for a new high school.
It’s more than simple nostalgia making it difficult for Gutschmidt to leave the family home of 50 years. It’s money.
“I just want to be treated fairly,” the 57-year-old said from his living room Tuesday, before traveling to Everett to appeal for the school board’s help. “If I was, I wouldn’t be doing this.”
The district’s buyout offer, which he’s disputing, won’t pay for a comparable home. He and his partner don’t earn enough money to qualify for an apartment lease. Another stumbling block: When the school board voted to use eminent domain, back in September, they opted out of paying relocation expenses.
With a yard stocked with cars, a motorhome, travel trailer, ham radio equipment and more, Gutschmidt is worried about the March 30 move-out date.
“To have to move it by myself, that’s more than I can do in a couple of months,” he said.
A state law would have allowed the district to reimburse Gutschmidt and his neighbors for reasonable relocation expenses, property lost as a result of the move or impacts to business. They declined. He wants them to reconsider.
“I just want to make sure that the school board itself was informed about what they opted out of,” Gutschmidt said. “It’s the all-encompassing thing that makes this fair to the homeowner. They’re only offering to buy the land, nothing else.”
He’s not alone. Two other sets of neighbors also must leave their homes along 174th Street SE by the end of March.
Marla and Leo Gese are already gone. They moved a week ago to Monroe, one of the few places within budget that could accommodate their horses without creating a nightmare commute.
“I’m really upset. I think it was wrong that they didn’t pay relocation,” Marla Gese said.
“We had to pay for all of the moving trucks and labor.”
The district last used its condemnation powers a quarter-century ago to acquire property for the Henry M. Jackson High School campus in Mill Creek.
“The district does not take the issue of eminent domain lightly,” district spokeswoman Leanna Albrecht said.
Until moving expenses entered the equation, the dispute in North Creek revolved around land values. The eminent domain properties, which total under 7 acres combined, are zoned for rural development. They’re literally next door to the hottest housing market in the state, where new homes on small lots easily command $700,000 and above.
The district offered Gutschmidt $385,000 for about 1.9 acres, which he co-owns with his brother. He said he has a written appraisal for more than twice that amount.
The affected homeowners believe it’s only a matter of time before the area is upzoned for urban development. Eminent domain procedures require them to accept the district’s offer, leave and hash out the final amount in court. Legal proceedings are scheduled for April.
“The court will determine the fair and just compensation for the property,” Albrecht said. “We would like to have a negotiated settlement prior to the court date.”
District officials want to build a fourth large high school to serve an expanding student body. Enrollment hit 19,891 this fall and is projected to grow by another 1,600 students within a decade. Two of the district’s three comprehensive high schools are over capacity.
To help the situation, the district is asking Everett-area voters to pass a capital bond on Feb. 13. The $330.6 million measure includes $216.8 million to build the future high school. The campus would cover about 44 acres, including an elementary school. The eminent domain properties are the only ones the district doesn’t own already.
If the bond measure passes, construction could start as early as 2019 with an opening in 2022. A future elementary school next door is funded and scheduled to be ready in 2019.
Gutschmidt and his neighbors don’t want to stand in the way of those plans, but they also want to look out for themselves.
His family moved to the property in 1967, when he attended Silver Lake Elementary, the nearest school at the time.
He and his brother inherited the land after their dad died in 2004.
“I’ve been here pretty much ever since,” he said.
He and his partner, Christine Messer, enjoy the life they’ve made there. Herbs and berries grow well around the property. They have a few mushroom patches and amazing well water.
“This is an oasis,” Messer said.
She suffers from COPD, a chronic lung condition, and fibromyalgia, which causes intense pain. She said she can pack odds and ends in boxes ahead of the move, but isn’t up for heavy lifting. And there’s plenty to pick up.
Gutschmidt ekes out a living buying and selling things online.
“Just enough to get by,” he said. “I’ve got a huge amount of inventory.”
He spoke to the School Board on Tuesday, asking them to revisit relocation expenses.
“Thank you for hearing my plea,” he began.