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The Issue of Property Rights: Kelo Comes to Shoreline

A new Patch Blogger urges the Shoreline community to stop the City's plan to redevelop Aurora Square at the expense of individual property rights.

Aurora Square
Aurora Square

I am a lifelong Shoreline resident of 26 years (if life begins at 30). This post marks my formal entry into the blogosphere. After several months of coaxing by Tony Dondero, I have agreed to become a Patch Blogger. My blog themes will be two, namely, property rights and open local government. Today I would like to talk about property rights.

Tonight's Shoreline City Council meeting agenda includes a resolution establishing the Aurora Square area as a Community Renewal Area (CRA). Whatever good they may provide, CRAs violate individual property rights. If you value your property rights, I urge you to come to City Hall and oppose Agenda Item 9(c): Resolution No.333. If you cannot make it to tonight's meeting, you can drop a note to the City Council  by 4:30pm today, and your voice will be heard.

Washington’s Community Renewal Law (formerly known as the Urban Renewal Law): RCW 35.81. A 2009 critiqueof the Community Renewal Law  by  the Washington Policy Center concluded the State’s Community Renewal Law needs to be “reformed to remove economic blight or ‘planner’s blight’ as a justification for condemnation.”

The Staff report on Resolution No. 333 includes the following admission.

The CRA Plan would likely utilize some or all of the CRA powers…[including the power to] Acquire, with the approval of the City Council, real property for the purposes of community renewal project. Should the City find it necessary to acquire additional property, the City would act in the public interest as a typical buyer, using a negotiated purchase agreement. In addition, RCW 35.81 prescribes that cities that acquire property for economic renewal in CRAs need to do so with the intention of returning the property to the private sector as soon as is reasonable. [condensed, emphasis added].

A majority of Americans share a common concern: property rights. According to the results of a 2008 National Constitution Center Poll, 87% of respondents think the government should not have the power to take people's private property in the interests of redeveloping an area. Through the unfair interventions of local government, we stand to see our property values effectively taken from us and given to others, and without due process.

This shared concern for property rights was manifested in the nation's reaction to the 2005United State Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London. 48 home owners lost their homes in an economic redevelopment scheme by the City of New London in partnership with the Pfizer Corporation. Listen to Suzette Kelo tell her neighborhood's sad and touching story. Before the Kelo decision, Washington was one of only 8 states restricting the use of eminent domain. Our state's Constitution prohibits eminent domain for economic development except to eliminate blight.  After Kelo, 44 states enacted legislation limiting state or municipal government's use of eminent domain. Washington was not one of them.

The City’s plans to establish Aurora Square as a Community Renewal Area is just their next step in a series of interventions to increase its tax revenues. Do not be taken in by their declaration that Aurora Square meets the definition of 'blighted area,' which they cite as "an area that 'substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the city'.” The only place meeting that definition is City Hall itself. They banked on ample Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) revenues to service the debt. Then the Great Recession came and property values plummeted. That, along with interference in private enterprise under the excuse of complying with the Growth Management Act, has resulted in a City Hall the City cannot afford. Now
they are forced to pay for it out of the general fund at the expense of other
services our community desires.

So the City is just trying to make a few extra bucks, at your expense. That is their motivation, not public welfare. This is what the City of New London Connecticut did to Susette Kelo and her neighbors. Take a look at the Kelo aftermath.

Private enterprise would thrive in Shoreline, if we would just repeal the legislation that stifles it. Our city government has gotten way out of control because we the public have stood by and let it happen.

I am afraid Aurora Square is just the beginning, folks. Commercial or residential, partisan politics aside, the principle is the same. The City thinks the decision on how to use private property is theirs to make. Your neighborhood and your home may be next. Oppose this urban renewal scheme. Oppose the City Council's Resolution No. 333.

Thank you for visiting my blog. Come back soon.

Tom Jamieson

Originally published September 04, 2012 at 06:37 PM

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Bryan September 05, 2012 at 06:06 AM
Hi Tom, I didn't see your blog until just now and I totally agree with you. You could not have said it better.
John Behrens September 05, 2012 at 08:34 PM
The reasons the land and few vacant properties along the Westminister triangle remain undeveloped rest entirely with poor zoning designations by a city hall staff who wishes to create a wonderland for property speculation. When the high times rolled several years ago the city zoned the Aurora Corridor into a high density zone that allows 5 to 6 story buildings. This means taxes assessed at a rate on vacant properties based on their holding Echo Lake style developments. It is called highest and best use. It eliminates things like small commercial enterprises that create a diversified tax base. When you hear the word development used in Shoreline think ECHO LAKE. That is what the city is zoned to hold and that is the basis of our property taxes. That's why Dick's is in Edmonds and we have empty lots and buildings throughout the city. Dick's bought and built a new structure for less than 1.5 million dollars. That is more than the land value alone for the vacant sugars site. These 2 sites are 2/12 miles apart and are in 2 cities with 2 entirely different tax and development concepts. The city is at odds with itself because creating reasonable land use designations limits property tax rates which limit city revenues.
Tony Dondero (Editor) September 05, 2012 at 08:51 PM
John, What would you like to see at Aurora Square? Do you agree with the CRA designation, which labels the square as economically blighted?
Wendy DiPeso September 07, 2012 at 03:49 AM
Instead of asking the reader "What would you like to see at Aurora Square?" We should be asking that question of the property owners. The site is not "blighted." More important the city took action without doing their homework first. Three of the property owners they spoke to said they might be interested in development. Two said they were against and the remaining 3 had not yet responded when this went before the council. It is just another example of the city making plans without including all the stake holders. (Just like they did when formulating their plan to purchase Seattle Public Utilities)
Les Nelson September 07, 2012 at 06:24 AM
Seriously, If the Council can approve such legislation by very liberally construing the definition of Community Renewal Area, why don't we, as citizens, liberally change the definition of CRA to mean "Council Renewal Area" and apply it to our current Shoreline council.
Tom Jamieson February 14, 2013 at 02:31 AM
Come see the City's idea of Community Renewal for Aurora Square. They are hosting an open house tonight from 7:00 to 8:30pm at Vineyard Community Church, 910 N. 160th. in Shoreline. Come witness the audacity of the City staff to make management decisions for private businesses by force of law.

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