FERNDALE - The city doesn't need to pay the owners of an 18-acre property on the corner of Church Road and Main Street to take part of the land for road projects. For their part, the owners of the undeveloped lot won't be required to pay an improvement fee, if the city chooses to assess it.
The city sought to purchase a 27-foot strip along the lot's western boundary, on Church Road, and a strip 341/2 feet wide on the south edge, along Main Street. Both sections of property were needed to widen and improve both Main and Church.
The signed agreement, which resolves the city's condemnation lawsuit against Clyde Watkins and Katherine Harrison, was filed in Whatcom County Superior Court on Wednesday, March 6. The City Council approved the deal on Feb. 19.
Watkins and Harrison initially accepted, on Jan. 4, $22,000 from the city for the roadside strips of land, according to the settlement. Municipalities are required to pay fair-market value for land they take in condemnations. The owners will return the money in full, in exchange for protection from what is known as a latecomer's assessment.
When a city pays for construction of a road, sewer and water lines, or a stormwater system, it can require the owners of an adjacent undeveloped lot to pay some of the cost of the improvements once the lot is developed. The principle is that the property owners benefit from the city's improvements.
The city council hasn't discussed a latecomer's assessment for Church Road, which is scheduled for construction in 2014. The Main Street improvements, which are finished, won't include a latecomer's fee, Project Manager Katy Radder said.
The property owners' attorney, Doug Robertson, said his clients' property, zoned for single-family homes, is likely to be developed. Latecomer's costs would probably run more than $100,000, he said.
"Ferndale has in fact reserved the right to impose latecomer's," Robertson wrote to The Bellingham Herald in an email. "They have been absolute that they were reserving such rights."
The city still must come to terms with the owners of two other properties among the 42 affected by the project, which extends on Church Road from Main Street to Heather Drive.
"We have the properties we need to build," Radder said. "We just need to get the details worked out."
Ferndale has taken only one other Church Road condemnation case to court. The suit against Sally Bouma, who owns a 0.2-acre lot at 5807 Church Road, remains unresolved. The other property owner who hasn't agreed to terms has not been taken to court, Radder said.