Opinion Columns & Blogs

Bullying tactics are egregious

Members of the Olympia City Council last week wisely backed away from plans to condemn Carl and Susan Ott's 1.72-acre pasture for a city park. Community outrage over the city's threat to use its condemnation powers to build a park helped convince council members they were headed down the wrong path.

Now it's time for community residents to raise a similar stink about a near-identical threat by the city to condemn 3.69 acres of 10 acres owned by Sue Haskin and Errol Dye at 3414 Mud Bay Road.

Once again, the city is on the prowl for more land for a park. But poor land-acquisition planning on the part of Olympia officials should not lead to the bullying tactics associated with condemnation proceedings.

What makes this attempted land grab especially egregious is the fact that the property has been in the Dye family for 110 years. "And, we already have the 165-acre grass lake park that butts up against our back fence line," Haskin said. That's right, the city wants to condemn property for a three-and-a-half acre park that is virtually next door to a huge parcel already set aside for protection.

"We were absolutely devastated by this, by this whole proposal," said Haskin, director of community relations for the Tumwater School District. How ironic it was that at the same time the City Council was scheduled to take up the Haskin/Dye condemnation, Haskin was scheduled to speak at the Boys and Girls Club. Here's a person who has devoted her life to helping kids as a role model, yet she has to defend herself against a city government that plans to take her property by force if necessary. Luckily, she convinced the mayor to change the council schedule so she could keep her speaking engagement.

What's interesting is the fact that the City Council quickly backed away from the Ott condemnation but has not similarly retreated from seizing the Haskin/Dye property.

"We're not moving forward, and we're not moving backward," said Councilman Joe Hyer. "We're studying our options."

Given the rapid development of the Mud Bay Road area, Hyer said, the city wants to help Haskin and Dye find a way to protect the property from development, through conservation easements or some other means. But it's clear that the City Council has been stung by public criticism associated with the two park condemnation cases.

Hyer said the council asked the city staff to find "a better way to negotiate" for more parkland, and he admits that the way the city staff handled both cases could be improved upon. "When at all possible, we want to avoid condemnation in general," Hyer said.

If that's the case, then the council should immediately back away from condemning the property owned by Haskin and Dye. How many people want to visit a park knowing that the land was seized against the owner's objections?

The city's ability to seize property for "essential public need" through condemnation proceedings is an awesome tool that should not be misused. Given the fact that the property owners have not caved in to development for 110 years and their property sits adjacent to Grass Lake Refuge, city officials will have a tough time convincing the public it has an essential public need to force Sue Haskin and Errol Dye to give up their property for a 3.69-acre park.