Council, Martins come to tentative terms on property

Published on Thu, Oct 25, 2012 by Brandy Kiger

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The idea of condemning the Martin property to create a utility and road corridor for East Blaine as part of the East Blaine Infrastructure Plan (EBIP) has been laid to rest – at least for now.

At the October 22 city council meeting, after a 30-minute retreat to executive session, city council members unanimously voted to accept a letter of intent from the Martin family and their attorney. This non-binding letter of intent would allow both parties to continue negotiations regarding the proposed utility corridor that cuts through the heart of the Martin’s property, which has been in their family’s possession for 100-plus years. He also takes condemnation off the table.

“We’re going to negotiate and see if we can reach an agreement without going to court,” city attorney Jon Sitkin said.
The route for the proposed utility corridor – referred to as the Motts Hill alignment – has been in dispute for more than a year. First proposed in 2011, it was determined to be a superior alternative to restructuring H Street, both for environmental and financial reasons.

Originally, the city had intended to acquire the 80-foot-wide, 4,000-foot-long right of way through eminent domain, and had developed their infrastructure plan (the EBIP) through a series of public meetings and hearings; however, the Martin family and its lawyer contended that the first the family heard of the proposed arterial was in September 2011, when council set about condemning the land. Condemnation, or eminent domain, is an action by which a government entity can seize private property for public use, compensating the property’s owner monetarily but without obtaining the owner’s consent.

Though the council voted 6-1 in October 2011 to pursue condemnation, the notification of the vote’s outcome was sent to the wrong address, and the vote had to be retaken. The re-vote was set to take place at a December 2011 meeting, but council members decided to table a decision until a thorough evaluation of the proposed routes and alternatives could be done. After negotiating an access agreement with the Martin family, the city hired Bellingham-based Wilson Engineering to thoroughly explore the Motts Hill route as a utility corridor.

The Martin family and the city of Blaine have now come to a tentative agreement that would grant the city a permanent 30-foot wide private easement for the construction, maintenance and operation of the city-owned utilities in return for just compensation for the easement. The amount of compensation and final location of the easement are still under negotiation.

Gary Tomsic, city manager, was pleased with the progress that had been made. “I think it’s a major step forward,” he said. “It serves as a foundation. We’ve identified key issues, and it takes condemnation off the table until January and gives us a little time to work on it. It’s a good thing.” The Martin family declined to comment.

The city council also addressed progress on H Street construction at the meeting. Ravyn Whitewolf, public works director, said that all construction has been halted on the project until the spring. “What you see is what we’re probably going to have until March,” she said. She did note, however, that she has asked the contractor to revisit the abrupt edges that are still present on the peripheral roads that connect to H Street. “It’s much better than it was,” Whitewolf said.

Council also unanimously approved the motion to authorize the city manager to sign a professional services agreement with Reichhardt & Ebe Engineering to begin Phase 1 of the Gateway Regional Stormwater Facility. Phase 1 would allow permitting to begin, so that the contract would be ready and in place when interested developers approached the city about the Gateway Property. Tomsic said that the incentive to develop the regional stormwater treatment system was that it would allow developers to utilize 100 percent of their property for construction, rather than forcing them to reserve part of their land for their own treatment system. “Everyone can use it,” he said. “We’re essentially fronting the money for the development, but [developers] will share in cost and maintenance.”

“In a way, it’s putting the cart before the horse,” Whitewolf said of the services agreement. “But in order to attract developers in the industrial area, the contract needs to be ready to go.”