Tiny parcel needed for an easement to Highway 20
Winthrop’s years-long effort to complete the Susie Stephens recreation trail literally took a few more steps forward last week when the Town Council agreed to use its eminent domain powers to acquire a minuscule piece of property.
Although clearly reluctant to start a condemnation procedure, the council acted on the recommendation of Town Planner Rocklynn Culp, who said a decade of trying to negotiate a purchase with the landowner had proved fruitless.
At issue is a small slice of a parcel owned by the Fodor Decedents Trust, adjacent to Highway 20 across from the Pardners Mini Mart. The .08-acre to be condemned (out of a total area of 1.5 acres) is needed for an easement that would allow the trail to be extended from its current end-point to the highway, where a crossing will be installed at some point.
Now, the trail abruptly ends within sight of the road, where users have to either turn around or bushwhack to the highway. A path trodden through the snow from the end of the trail to the roadside indicates that people have been doing just that. Acquiring the Fodor trust property would close the last 50 feet between the town’s existing right-of-way and Highway 20.
“We have been trying to acquire a right-of-way from the Fodor family trust and they have been non-responsive,” Culp told the council at its meeting last week. “We’ve tried every angle over 10 years. They have not responded to any of our offers. The only option is condemnation, with the ability to negotiate preserved.”
Culp said the town has offered fair market value as determined by multiple appraisals.
“The only way we’re going to get that crossing is to move forward with this,” Culp said. “It’s an odd little triangle that has no value to the rest of their property.”
The condemnation action will not come as a surprise to the landowners, Culp said. “They know that this is coming … they’ve been told by multiple parties.”
Culp said she would have preferred that the property purchase happened on a voluntary basis.
The council unanimously adopted an ordinance to begin the eminent domain process and agreed with Culp and town attorney Scott DeTro that the town should hire a lawyer who specializes in such actions. “The procedural steps are really important,” Culp said.
“We’re still hopeful we can negotiate before it ends up in court,” Culp said, “but we need a crossing there.” Getting the crossing secured is necessary for funding support from the Washington State Department of Transportation.
In an off-agenda discussion that started during the public comment portion of the meeting, the council heard from Casey Ruud, who owns two condominiums in the Cascade Condominiums development off of Highway 20. Ruud had asked that the town reconsider the recent increase in water and sewer rates it is charging the condos’ owners.
“I thought we had a resolution in January, but it hasn’t been on your agenda,” Ruud told the council. “The process has failed.”
Ruud said the town has “no substantial reasoning” to increase water rates based on the determination that the condos are commercial property. “We’re being overcharged wrongly, in my opinion,” Ruud said.
Mayor Sally Ranzau apologized for the delay in responding to the Cascade Condominium owners’ request for consideration. She said she expects the issue to be on the council agenda soon.
In a memo to the council, Ruud noted that an ad hoc committee to resolve the issue — made up of Ruud, his wife, Laura, Kathleen Jardin and council member Bill McAdow — met with Ranzau in January. According to that memo, committee members agreed to keep Cascade Condominiums in the “multi-family residence, apartments and condominiums” rate category whether they are nightly rentals or full-time residences.
In the memo, Ruud noted that the town’s recent reclassification of the condos to the “hotels, motels, transient houses and cabins” category had nearly doubled the water rates that condo owners pay.
“Based on the Winthrop municipal code and review of actual water usage data from the Cascade Condominium Complex, there is no justification for increasing monthly water rates for nightly rentals based on consumption,” Ruud said in the memo. He asked that increases be rescinded and any additional money already paid by condo owners be refunded.
Another off-agenda item involved a request from Kyrie and Kathleen Jardin, who own the Purple Sage building and Methow Reservations, that the town repair a portion of the wooden boardwalk adjacent to the Purple Sage building (and Confluence Park) so that they can install a concrete apron along the side of the building. They have been waiting for the boardwalk repair so that the two projects will mesh seamlessly, the Jardins said.
Boardwalk repair has been more difficult than might be expected from the town because replacement lumber must be cut to precise measurements to meet requirements of the town’s Westernization code. The lumber has to be special-ordered, which can take weeks.
“We’d like the town to get something going, so we can get something going, so it will look nice,” Kyrie Jardin said.
Ranzau said the town would respond, but added that there are no funds in the budget dedicated specifically to that project.
Somewhat related to those two issues, Ranzau also told the council that the Planning Commission has scheduled two public hearings for its March 12 meeting — one on proposed changes to the town’s Westernization code, and one on proposed changes in the code regulating nightly rentals. The Westernization hearing will be at 7 p.m.; the nightly rental hearing at 6 p.m.
After the public hearings and more discussion, the Planning Commission will forward its recommendations to the Town Council, which will then schedule its own public hearings before considering action.