News

Verdict tops $5 million

Condemned land may cost city $6 million with fees

By Dennis Box

The Courier-Herald

A Pierce County Superior Court jury returned a $5 million verdict in the Schuur Brothers property condemnation civil case Friday, one day after arguments were concluded.

The verdict came in about 5 p.m. after a 12-person jury spent the day deliberating.

The $5 million verdict was 10 percent higher than the last offer by the city, which was $4.2 million.

Washington state law requires the city to pay court cost, Schuur's legal fees, 12 percent interest on the balance owed from the time the property was taken, plus the verdict decision if it is 10 percent higher than the city's offer.

The city took possession of the property Nov. 8, 2004 and paid $1.95 million.

City officials estimate the final tag to be about $6 million.

Warren Daheim of from the law firm Gordon, Thomas, Honeywell, Malanca, Peterson and Daheim represented Schuur.

Kathleen Haggard and Jeff Ganson from the law firm Dionne and Rorick represented the city.

The jury was chosen July 27 and the trial began July 28 with Judge Ronald E. Culpepper presiding. The trial did not convene July 29, but began Aug. 1 lasting a total of six days.

The city called one witness, Don Heischman, an appraiser, and two on redirect, Rick Tunnell, a review appraiser and James Reinhardsen, mangaging director of Heartland LLC .

Schuur's lawyer called three witnesses, Bill Mundy, an appraiser, Gary Hendrickson, real estate agent and Bill Schuur, president of Schuur Brothers.

The condemnation suit began May 2004 when the City Council voted to condemn the 12.5-acre parcel next to Allan Yorke Park. The council voted 6-1 to condemn, with Councilman Jim Rackley the lone dissenting vote.

The members voted to condemn the property because of the city's need for park land.

Condemnation is a legal process that allows a city or government entity to take land for the greater public good and the governing body must pay fair market value to the owner.

Mayor Bob Young vetoed the condemnation ordinance and was overridden by the council.

After the trail, Schuur said he was satisfied with the verdict and the trial.

"I worked for two years on the property," Schuur said. "I was given permits and was ready to go ahead when they took that property. All along, $5 million was the number. I offered to settle at $5 million four or five times before the trial and they wouldn't settle. When they were talking $2.1 million, that was insanity. They made their highest and best offer of $4.2 million because they were concerned about legal fees and interest. If they had settled they wouldn't have had to pay court cost and legal fees."

Schuur said he felt an important moment in the trial came in Daheim's closing argument when the lawyer reminded the jury no city official had attended the trial.

"He said not one city councilman or the mayor had been at the trial, and in his 50 years of practice he'd never seen that," Schuur said. "He told the jury the only conclusion he could draw was they were too embarrassed about what they had done to me."

Young said he was happy with his legal team's work, but sorry the city has to pay $6 million.

"I tried to talk to the city council," Young said. "I was afraid something like this might happen. That's why I vetoed it. Once it is in front of a jury I knew it could go anywhere."

Young said he did not specifically remember hearing about the $5 million offer from Schuur, but thought the council gave their last offer as $4.2 million.

Deputy Mayor Swatman said a jury decision was the best course after the council voted to condemn the property.

"It's unfortunate the city and the property owner couldn't have come to an agreement," Swatman said. "But when we take land by force, we have to pay the price. What better body to decide than a jury? If we had come to a figure through negotiation people may have said that was too much or not enough. The ultimate test is a jury."

Rackely continued to stand by his dissent of the condemnation.

"We could have completed the entire parks plan for that much money," Rackley said. "Because 20 or 30 people complained, the rest of the people will get stuck. The council would not listen."

Councilman Neil Johnson said in the future the nearly 13-acre addition to Allan Yorke Park would be worth the price.

"This city council has put together a vision," Johnson said. "We need to look at that vision and stick to it. This land was needed for the future of the city. I wish it (condemnation) could have been avoided. It could have been avoided if it was handled properly."

The property was purchased by Schuur nearly three years ago.

"If they want to give it back to me today and let me finish my project I would do it," Schuur said. "You can't find a piece of property like that now."

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com.

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