The power of eminent domain should be a tool for City of Shoreline officials in the construction of Aurora Avenue from North 165th Street to North 185th Street, members of the City Council decided on Nov. 17.
Eminent domain may be used in the acquisition of property for the second mile of the Aurora Corridor improvement project but only after certain steps are taken to negotiate with property owners, city staff explained at the meeting.
“We’ve really tried to do our best to explain to property owners the process,” Public Works director Mark Relph said.
The process, according to Relph and city attorney Ian Sievers, includes multiple conversations with property owners and action that can lead to right-of-way acquisition by the city through a series of appraisals and negotiations. If a negotiation reaches an impasse, the city can use eminent domain and the conflict is resolved in court.
The power of eminent domain is allowed under state law and serves to acquire private property for public use. The law requires that an ordinance declaring a project to be in the public interest must be adopted prior to the use of eminent domain. Acquisition of 60 permanent and 17 temporary properties are necessary for improvements to the second mile of the Aurora Corridor, but eminent domain would only be put to use as a last resort, city manager Bob Olander told council members.
“In the past we’ve had some friendly condemnations and one or two that were contentious but overall I think we have been successful, I think, in arriving to mutually amicable settlements with the property owners,” Olander said. “It always continues to be our goal to arrive at acceptable decisions before court.”
Postponing the approval of the use of eminent domain could hurt the project’s chances of receiving viable bids by Spring and result in the possible loss of grant funding for the project, Relph said.
Mayor Cindy Ryu suggested an amendment to the ordinance in order to ensure that property owners will be made well aware of their options and have the opportunity to negotiate with the city before eminent domain is used. She abstained from the final vote on the ordinance.
“I think everybody knows I support the design and I support the project,” she said. “I’m sure you all understand I have been at the pointy end of eminent domain action myself and it’s not fun. I do still have a reservation about voting for it. It does speak against my idea of property rights.”
Councilwoman Janet Way also spoke against the ordinance and abstained from the final vote.
“I know we want a good project, we want the city to thrive but we want our businesses to thrive,” she said. “I’m not 100 percent convinced that there is no other option.”
A motion to table the discussion until Nov. 24 failed and the ordinance passed 5-0 with two abstentions.
“As uncomfortable as I feel for all the property owners, you’re in the pathway of a government municipal project and unfortunately we’re going to have to borrow or acquire some of your land as we move through,” deputy mayor Terry Scott said. “This is never going to feel comfortable but it’s something that has to take place.”