The city of Blaine is one step closer to extending utilities to east Blaine after a city council vote Monday night gave the go ahead to acquire two parcels of private property.
At its October 10 meeting, the city council voted 6-1, with council member John Liebert opposed, to start condemnation proceedings on two parcels north of H Street between Harvey Road and the proposed Grandis Pond development. Blaine public works staff plan to carve a 30-foot-wide, 2,700-foot-long corridor through the two properties under which sewer lines will be built. Blaine public works staff determined this corridor, as a way to extend utilities to east Blaine, will have the least negative impact on surrounding property owners.
The properties’ owner, Bob Martin, expressed concern at the council’s September 26 meeting that city officials had made little effort to negotiate with him regarding the acquisition of the land. Martin was concerned that utility construction would damage the undeveloped environment on his property. Neither Martin nor anyone representing him was present at the October 10 council meeting.
Blaine public works director Steve Banham said he had met with Martin before the vote and said Martin had refused to allow the city access to his property. Banham said the city needed access to determine the exact course the proposed utility corridor would take.
Though no one directly representing Martin spoke against the land acquisition at the meeting, state representative Jason Overstreet, a former Blaine city council member, said he was opposed to this plan when it first came up a year ago and is opposed to it now. He said he believes it’s an incorrect use of eminent domain and that running the utilities under H Street, while more costly, is the preferable alternative.
“It’s not supposed to be easy for government to take away someone’s land,” Overstreet said. “A viable alternative exists, and just because it’s more difficult doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.”
Attorney Jon Sitkin, representing the city, was quick to make clear that city officials will not be just taking Martin’s property. The city is required to pay fair market value for the easement, and this value will be determined in a court of law.
The ordinance the council passed means the city will file a petition of condemnation in Whatcom County Superior Court, Sitkin explained. Ultimately, a superior court judge will decide whether or not it is in the best interests of the public for the city of Blaine to acquire Martin’s land. The condemnation ordinance does not put future negation with Martin out of the question, Sitkin added.
Sitkin was met with skepticism from the council. Council member Paul Greenough asked Sitkin to convince him why this action would be beneficial to the whole of Blaine and not just the Grandis Pond development.
Sitkin clarified that the city council has determined through long-range planning that east Blaine is where the city must grow. Sitkin said if this isn’t the direction the council wants to go, than the council will have to reconsider the city’s long-range development plans.
“Will this benefit the major developer at the end of the line? Yes,” Sitkin said. “Is that the only reason we’re doing it? No.”
All the council members agreed moving forward with the condemnation process was the city’s best route, however distasteful it might be. Council agreed digging up H Street to place sewer lines would be too costly and affect too many people.
“If we do it this way, we harm one person, [but] if we do it along H Street, we harm a dozen people,” Greenough said. “What we are proposing to do to Mr. Martin is horrible, but the alternative is worse.”