Council denies realtor's street vacation request

Published on Wed, Nov 13, 2013 by Brandy Kiger Shreve

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Opinions were split at the Blaine City Council meeting November 12 as council members grappled with a decision that pitted the long-term needs of the city against the immediate request of a resident wishing to make the most of his property. 

Blaine realtor Ron Freeman had petitioned the city to extend his property line into the city’s right of way in order to gain the square footage required to split the property into two buildable parcels. 

The property at 602 Adelia Street is comprised of three 3,500-square-foot lots and is an eyesore with its burnt out hull of a house in prominent view of the neighborhood. Freeman said he wanted to tear the house down and construct two modest-sized homes on smaller lots, something he said was becoming more common in the real estate market. 

“People used to buy the biggest lot they could for the least amount,” he said. “What we’re finding now is that people want to buy a nice home with a smaller, more manageable yard that’s easier to maintain. This is exactly what I’d like to accomplish.”

He said it would also accomplish the need for housing infill in the community and be the “highest and best use for the property.” 

In order to make that happen, Freeman needs an additional 1,500 square feet of space to conform with single family zoning lot standards in effect in the Salishan neighborhood. A vacation of the right of way by the city would make that possible, he said, which would allow his property line to extend 11 feet into the existing right of way.

“The Growth Management Act encourages developers and cities to consider ways to encourage the infill of housing in their communities,” Freeman said. “This project has a public purpose – it will eliminate the eyesore of a burnt structure … and increase revenue for the city through permits, utilities, excise and real estate tax.” 

But assistant public works director Bill Bullock said that while those were plausible benefits of the project, they were simply too short term for the department to recommend the project.

“Adelia has a standard right of way width of 80 feet,” he said. “All of the streets in the entire grid have an 80-foot right of way. It’s been that way for over 100 years and there has been no prior street vacation in this area. It would create an inconsistency in the infrastructure.”

Bullock said the right of way on Adelia is an active right of way, meaning that the city could potentially use it in the future for such things as utilities, parking or sidewalks, and giving that up in order to accommodate Freeman’s wishes would complicate those plans, even if an easement were put in place.

“Easements are not superior to right of ways,” Bullock said. “They don’t allow for things such as streets, trees, parking or other infrastructure improvements.”

City manager Dave Wilbrecht said while the city doesn’t disagree with what Freeman was trying to accomplish, it just doesn’t fit with the city’s long-term plan.

“Engineers love straight lines and so do city managers because we don’t have to worry about [utilities] jogging around people’s property lines,” said Wilbrecht. “If we start looking at serving private properties rather than the city’s needs, then you’ve set a precedent. It may not affect you now, but down the road, another city council is going to have a problem to deal with. We’re not recommending it because it doesn’t line up with our purposes, but if you believe it serves the city, then vote for it.”

While council was sympathetic to both sides of the problem, they ultimately rejected Freeman’s request, deciding against setting a precedent. “There has to be some way to accommodate this request without vacating the right of way or violating the city’s codes and ordinances,” Robinson said. “I’d like see us find new ways to allow for new homes and residences in the city.”

“There’s got to be something we can do,” said council member Clark Cotner. “It’s ugly. It’s atrocious. It’s the poster child of derelict properties and this is part of Blaine’s problem. But everyone seems to be dead set against it.” 

“Ron makes a wonderful case,” said neighbor Alma Wagner during the public hearing. “I have to look at the property too, but I really worry about you setting a precedent with this. There’s nothing wrong with a single-family home and agreeing to this is going to make a tough spot for future councils.” 
 
The motion to deny the request  was passed with a 5–2 vote, with council members Steve Lawrence and Cotner voting no.

In other council news, council voted to maintain current property tax levels and bank the potential one percent increase “against possible future need,” despite objections from council members Dennis Olason and Charlie Hawkins. “I think we should take the tax this year,” Olason said. “If we don’t, over time, we end up losing money.”

The motion to bank the tax increase passed 4–3, with Lawrenson, Olason and Hawkins voting no. 

The next regular city council meeting is scheduled for November 25 at 6 p.m. in council chambers at 435 Martin Street.