Lake Stevens Uses Eminent Domain to Build New Powerline Trail

LAKE STEVENS — A city’s desire to build a paved recreational trail is before the courts.

The Town of Lake Stevens filed two petitions to damnor take, easements totaling more than 21,000 square feet of two neighborhoods of West Lake Stevens Last week.

More than 70 people residing in the Quail Court and Willowood areas are listed as respondents.

In a 5-2 vote, Lake Stevens City Council approved plans to take the easements in March, allowing the city to move forward with plans to build the Powerline Trail. When complete, the 12-block paved trail will connect neighborhoods, playgrounds and a new dog park from 20th Street SE to 8th Street SE.

The trail will follow an existing dirt utility road under high voltage power lines.

Local governments have the power to seize property needed for public use under eminent domain. But first, for a court to determine that the conviction is legal, government officials must prove that the use is truly public, that the public interest requires it, and that proper ownership is necessary for that purpose.

More commonly, eminent domain is used by government agencies for necessary utility upgrades, such as replacing a utility pole, installing a new stormwater system, or acquire land to build facilities.

For the town of Lake Stevens, the Powerline Trail would meet the needs of some residents shared in a 2019 surveysaid Jill Meis, City Parks Planning and Development Coordinator. The majority of survey respondents said they think the city needs more pedestrian paths and they want more parks within a mile or two of their homes.

There was a long process of raising public awareness leading to a sentencing process. Earlier this year, Meis told the Daily Herald that she did not take the sentencing “lightly”.

The city hoped residents would sign easement agreements instead, Meis said. By signing easement agreements, the owners agreed to give the city some of the open space in their neighborhood.

The city valued each of Quail Court’s 33 landowners’ share of 3,733 square feet of land behind their homes on 88th Drive SE at about $10. Residents of Willowood received a similar letter, stating that each property owner has an equal share of $41.67 in the 17,956 square foot easement across their neighborhood.

The city first sent out letters asking landlords to sign easement agreements last fall. The owners of the two neighborhoods were offered $100 for signing the agreement within 30 days of receiving the letter.

Only nine of the 57 landowners in the Willowood and Quail Court neighborhoods have signed on.

Some of them raised their concerns early in the public outreach process.

Quail Court resident Stephanie Steffan and Willowood resident Kurtice Poole were each worried about the town’s plans for the service road behind their homes.

Steffan was concerned that the trail would compromise needed wildlife habitat and interfere with access to neighborhood street parking. She said she signed the easement agreement so she wouldn’t lose the $100 incentive.

Poole said he often uses the road to bring wood to his garden for projects and to move his utility trailer. He said city officials told him he would lose the ability to drive on the road once the trail was completed.

He did not sign the easement agreement and now he is listed as a respondent in the petition for conviction. He said he “isn’t going to empty his savings account” to fight it. “Our hands are tied,” he said.

All owners who did not sign received notices of intent to convict in February.

“If any of the owners wish to sign prior to the next steps and be excluded from the acquisition process, they are still eligible to do so,” Meis said in an email to the Herald.

The sentencing “is a necessary step for us to move forward,” Lake Stevens City District Attorney Greg Rubstello said in March. “Hopefully we don’t have owners trying to challenge the conviction.”

Isabelle Breda: 425-339-3192; [email protected] Twitter: @BredaIsabella.