FERNDALE - City officials have taken two Church Road property owners to court in order to acquire portions of their lots for a road project.
Ferndale officials filed two petitions in Whatcom County Superior Court using the government's power of eminent domain, or condemnation - buying private property at fair market value for the public good, whether or not the property owner is willing to sell.
In one of the cases, the city seeks a strip of land on an 18-acre property at the corner of Church and Main Street. Judge Ira Uhrig has ordered the city and property owner to submit appraisals of the property by Nov. 15.
"We're obligated to get right-of-way rights acquired by end of the year," city Project Manager Katy Radder said. That's a condition of a loan for the project from the state Public Works Trust Fund, she said.
Katherine Harrison, owner of the corner property, declined to comment because of the ongoing legal dispute.
In its petitions, filed Sept. 4 and Oct. 15, the city claims the project will serve the public interest because it will improve safety and traffic flow, and improve access to the downtown area.
The condemnation filed in October is for part of a 0.2-acre lot at 5807 Church Road. Owner Sally Bouma could not be reached for comment.
Neither of the property acquisitions requires tearing down buildings.
The two properties are among 44 on Church Road that will be affected by the $5 million project, which stretches from Main Street to Heather Drive. The city plans to rebuild and widen that part of Church Road in 2014. The project includes sidewalks, street lights, curbs and storm drainage.
On Monday, Nov. 5, the City Council is expected to vote to set aside $300,000 for costs related to property acquisition along Church Road, including appraisal fees and eventual purchases, said city Finance Director Mark Peterson.
Two other property owners have granted the city the right to use or build on portions of their land but have not yet agreed on a sale price, Radder said.
The city is continuing to negotiate with all four property owners, including the two it has taken to court, Radder said.
"Eminent domain is merely one more tool in the toolbox to get to final resolution," she said.