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Landowner blasts citys efforts to condemn property for recreation site

LEGAL TIFF -- Nursery owners say Forest Grove officials are misrepresenting their efforts to keep half their land and give half to the city

Hally and Jennie Haworth say they are tired of being portrayed as the bad guys.

The couple, which owns a nursery southeast of Forest Grove, last year purchased a 140-acre tract of land that the city had tried to purchase months earlier.

City officials had long eyed the land, at the south end of Elm Street, across Highway 47, as a potential site for ball fields, trails along Gales Creek and, possibly, a city-owned RV park.

After the Haworths bought the parcel in August 2005 from the Zurcher family, the city made them an offer, which was rejected. The city council then authorized staff to begin condemnation proceedings last October.

At that time, City Manager Michael Sykes said that the city had offered the Haworths $1.9 million for the land, which included a storage barn and a few other buildings.

He said then that the Haworths purchased the land from the Zurcher Estate for $1.65 million.

To condemn the property, the city would need to convince a jury that it had a legitimate public purpose for the land and that it had offered the Haworths a fair price. Sykes said last year that the city had the property appraised and that the value came in at $1.9 million.

With condemnation proceedings scheduled to start this week, the two sides engaged in mediation last week in an effort to avoid going to court.

That effort took a step backwar' on Tuesday when the Haworths sent a letter to Forest Grove Mayor Richard Kidd and the other council members.

'We find it very bothersome and disrespectful, that as recently as last week, those connected with the City continue to use phrases like 'the Haworths squeezed the City out' of the 140 acres or that 'the Haworths 'stole the property from the City,'' the letter states. 'We don't understand why the City chose to treat us this way. We feel bullied and that this condemnation process is being used on us as some business demolition device.'

In their letter, the Haworths say that in meetings with Sykes and Paul Downey, the city's finance director, they have always made it clear that they don't need all 140 acres of the property.

In fact, the letter to council members states, the Haworths have offered to give the city 70 acres of the property for recreation uses.

'Please understand that we simply want to run our nursery and, at the same time, give the City an opportunity to create a park with an area more than 3 times the size of Lincoln Park,' the letter states, referring to the city's largest existing park.

Sykes was not in his office Tuesday and Downey said the city's lawyers had instructed staff not discuss the letter as long as the mediation process was continuing.

'The only comment I can make is that the city feels it mediated in good faith,' Downey said.

One of the reasons the city is so eager to get the property is that it has a shortage of sports fields, a fact that became apparent last month when Pacific University proposed changes to Lincoln Park.

A regional study estimates the city will need 110 acres of land dedicated for recreational purposes by 2040.