Tigard may use eminent domain to seize downtown land

The City Council approves a 'resolution of necessity' to be able to proceed with downtown improvements

TIGARD - The City Council took an aggressive stance Feb. 26, approving a resolution to use eminent domain if necessary to acquire the land needed to improve Burnham Street and extend Ash Avenue.

The projects are part of the long-simmering plan to improve the downtown area, and the 'resolution of necessity' - or the right to use eminent domain - is to make sure land is available for the new alignments of Burnham and Ash streets.

According to a memo by City Engineer Gus Duenas, the resolution authorizes the city manager to execute purchase-and-sale agreements for the appraised values on each of the properties or up to $75,000 above the appraised values.

'In those cases where agreement cannot be reached, it authorizes the city's attorneys to take all action necessary, including exercise of eminent domain, to acquire those properties,' the memo states.

According to Duenas, the Burnham Street and Ash Avenue projects are in the initial stages of land acquisition, and the intent is to complete property acquisitions in time to begin utility relocation and undergrounding this summer.

'We're at the point where we need to be as efficient as possible in acquiring property to make the Burnham Street project a reality this summer,' Duenas said. 'This allows us to move ahead with condemnation if necessary.'

Duenas said that while some property owners are willing to negotiate, 'we're seeing some indications that (condemnation) might be necessary in some cases. This gives us the go-ahead to move ahead as aggressively as possible to get this out to bid.

'Some (property owners) have retained attorneys who are condemnation specialists… We can't move ahead with eminent domain without this resolution.'

City Manager Craig Prosser noted, 'The city's strong preference is to obtain these properties from willing sellers.'

Although a public hearing was not held on the issue, the council allowed Mike Stevenson to speak.

Stevenson said that he and his wife have owned B and B Print Source, located at 9040 S.W. Burnham St., for 21 years, and the company employs 72 people.

'You're hurrying this process,' he said. 'We should have been given an offer a long time ago.'

According to Stevenson, the city wants to purchase the back portion of his property to become part of Fanno Creek Park, and 'the festival street will go through my parking lot and basically put me out of business at that location.'

He noted that according to the master plan for downtown, the rest of his property is earmarked for eventual residential housing.

'I can't expand,' Stevenson said. 'I can't move and rent it. It becomes worthless. The city has forgotten the effects this is having on these types of businesses - specifically mine. The city is considering my business a liability, not an asset.'

Duenas explained, 'Part of the process is to get appraisals… we need that information before we can go to somebody with an offer.'

When pressed by Councilor Gretchen Buehner as to how many properties are involved, Duenas said, 'There are 22 properties that we have to get, and we have made offers on seven or eight.'

Buehner told Duenas that he should let all the affected property owners know where they fit into the process.

'(Keeping people from knowing what is going on) leaves people feeling uncomfortable and nervous,' Buehner said.

Councilor Sydney Sherwood added that the council does not want businesses to move out of Tigard, and Mayor Craig Dirksen noted, 'This plan for the park and everything will take 20 - maybe 30 years - before everything is accomplished. Gus and the city manager told me that they didn't know how much property we need until the design is done, so they didn't know until fairly recently.'

Duenas said that he would keep the affected property owners better apprised of the situation, and the council voted 4 to 0 to approve the resolution.

According to Duenas' memo, a total amount of $1.9 million is budgeted in the fiscal year 2007-08 to complete the project design and the land acquisition and to begin construction on Burnham Street.

For the Ash Avenue extension project, $379,000 has been set aside for the design and land acquisition.