City's condemnation plan draws fire

Federal Way’s plans to move forward with condemning portions of five properties in its southwest end elicited angry cries of protest and accusations of corruption at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

But mood’s had calmed by the end of the meeting as the council advanced the proposal to create a regional stormwater drainage basin for further consideration at its Dec. 18 meeting. Some residents even got personal assurances the council would take a hard look at their concerns.

For years, several southwest Federal Way residents have been troubled with the city’s planned community improvement project in the 356th Street area south of Enterprise Elementary School.

Some have repeatedly complained the residential subdivisions erected by Novi-star Development have created ongoing stormwater flooding problems. As the flooding has worsened, some water has collected in the homes and barns of some residents. The city has since moved to condemn properties to create the basin

One resident, Roy Parke, sold his land to a developer after several legal tussles with the city. On Tuesday, he addressed the council, opposing more condemnation by the city against his former neighbors.

“I’m like most people — don’t know much about the law. But let me tell you: I’ve got an education,” Parke said.

Waving legal documents and newspaper articles in the air, Parke spoke for 15 minutes when Mayor Mike Park told him to sum up his speech. Most citizens addressing the council are granted three minutes per subject per meeting.

Parke reacted angrily when ordered to curtail his comments.

“There’s not a one of you who doesn’t know that there’s something wrong with this condemnation,” he said.

“This is all dirty,” he said before stepping away from the microphone.

“Of course, I wasn’t given the time here to talk when I put up with six years of hell from this city!”

With tension in the room, police chief Anne Kirkpatrick summoned Federal Way police officers to the council chambers where they remained until Parke and nearly two dozen of his supporters departed.

It was unclear whether Parke’s sympathizers lived in areas affected by stormwater floods. Most left mid-meeting with Parke, neglecting to address the council as they had requested to do.

Later in the meeting, city stormwater manager Paul Bucich presented a city staff report to council, indicating that the city’s best option to control runoff was to purchase five pieces of affected land and let the plots exist as a drainage basin. Options to divert the flow west toward the Hylebos wetlands could cost up to $2.5 million, while the land acquisition was estimated to cost the city approximately $365,000, Bucich said in his report. Dredging, too, was expensive and a riskier proposition.

“Sooner or later you’re going to hit groundwater,” he said. “And then what do you do?”

The acquisition was necessary, Bucich argued, to prevent future flooding, avoid more litigation and prevent delays in any more development plans. He said complaints of flooding go back to 1974, and the property acquisition idea first percolated in King County’s 1991 Hylebos Basin Plan. Consultants in further studies recommended obtaining the land to the 320-foot elevation.

Area resident Charles Connon rose to disagree with Bucich’s assessment. He stands to lose a quarter acre of his land if the condemnation goes forward. “Why can’t you have the decency to hear the victims’ position,” he asked.

The persons perhaps most impacted by the condemnation proposal are Bob and Patricia Wilson who have lived on the same plot for 24 years.

About three years ago, the city announced it might condemn Wilson’s property, and he was contacted by a city public works employee.

“What they want to take goes right through the middle of our septic field,” Bob Wilson said. “If we don’t get our septic situation squared away, our home could be condemned by the public health department.”

That would mean the couple could lose their home and be forced to move, he said.

The Wilsons met with Bucich and a deputy city attorney on Nov. 28. Bucich suggested moving the drain field to property the city would not absorb, but it’s not yet known if that is feasible. An expert will visit the site next week.

“The city has acknowledged that that is indeed a problem,” Wilson said. “It sounds like they’re going to try to work with us. They don’t anticipate us going all the way to condemnation.”

The city doesn’t want the entire plot, “And obviously, we don’t want to move,” he added. “Fortunately, we’ve not been in a position where we had to sell our house in the meantime, or we would have really been in a pickle.”

In a phone interview following the council meeting, City Attorney Bob Sterbank said he could see no ground for Parke’s concerns. Parke had withdrawn his complaints against the city, and had sold his land to Novastar for more than its market value.

For other residents, the city is leaving the door open to negotiate to purchase the land. In any case, condemnation would have to be approved by a judge, and compensation for the lost land could be determined by jury.

“The conspiracy theory is really a case of no good deed goes unpunished,” Sterbank said.

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