Scottish Rite Temple reprieved

By Jim Haley

Herald Writer

EVERETT — The historic Scottish Rite Temple could earn another lease on life, but a judge Friday said the building’s owners have some high hurdles to jump before the structure can avoid razing.

The 91-year-old building’s owners want the judge to reverse a condemnation ruling that would permit the destruction to make way for the city’s new special events center.

Skagit County Superior Court Judge John Meyer said he would give the Ancient Scottish Rite of Freemasons a chance to show that the Everett City Council was "arbitrary and capricious" Dec. 12 when it rejected a proposal to save the building and still build the events center.

"It gives us an opportunity to have our argument heard by the court, and we didn’t have that opportunity before the city council," said attorney Tom Adams of Everett, who represents the building’s owners, after the judge’s decision.

But the city’s attorney doesn’t think the outcome will change.

"We’re still comfortable with our position. It will just take a little longer," said Walt Tabler, a Seattle lawyer hired to handle city condemnation of land for the special events center.

Meyer said he would come to Everett to hear the case when the lawyers can find an appropriate date, probably in mid-January.

In the meantime, this delay isn’t expected to put a crimp in city plans to start construction by March 1, Mayor Ed Hansen said. The March deadline is necessary to accommodate the opening of the 2003 Western Hockey League season, which will have an Everett team playing in the new facility.

Still another possible problem for the city is the gathering of signatures on an initiative to force Everett to pick another site for the events center.

The $75 million facility is planned in a two-block section of downtown Everett between Broadway and Oakes Avenue on the east and west, and Hewitt Avenue and Wall Street on the north and south.

A second chance for the old temple building arose, said Adams, because of actions early this month by the city council and a city public facilities district — after the freemasons reluctantly agreed they didn’t have grounds to stop condemnation of the property for a public use.

The conditions changed when the public facilities district proposed moving the events center north 20 feet, changing an entrance, reducing the sidewalk area on Hewitt and making other changes that would save the temple.

In fact, the facilities district board even contemplated integrating the old structure into the new complex to possibly make up for destruction of two other historic buildings within the two-block area.

Those hopes were dashed Dec. 12 when the council voted 6-1 to demolish all three historic buildings.

Adams said he was promised time to make the freemasons’ case to the council Dec. 12, but the decision was made without taking his testimony.

Judge Meyer was handed the property condemnation matter after all the Snohomish County judges stood aside. Adams’ new motion to set aside the freemasons’ acquiescence was heard in a Mount Vernon courtroom.

Meyer greeted Adams with a terse comment: "Mr. Adams, you made a deal, and now you want to change your mind."

What do the freemasons object to?

"The freemasons object to government taking their property and demolishing it when it isn’t necessary," Adams told the judge.

He told Meyer he has subpoenaed materials from the Dec. 12 council meeting and an earlier public facilities district meeting to help make his case. Those materials should be available in early January. He asked the judge for another hearing so those materials can be reviewed by Meyer.

Tabler said Adams "is taking the court into areas where courts seldom venture," and he pointed out that it’s up to the city council and not the judiciary to decide on the design for the special events center.

Meyer agreed, then emphasized that Adams has a "very high burden" to prove the city council didn’t act correctly. But, "I think he deserves the opportunity to try to convince this court," Meyer said.

You can call Herald Writer Jim Haley at 425-339-3447 or send e-mail to

haley@heraldnet.com.

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