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Everett may use tougher tools to reshape downtown

EVERETT — Should the city be granted the use of eminent domain to foster economic development?
City Council members will consider this question during a March 4* public hearing on the establishment of a Community Renewal Area, or CRA, in downtown Everett. Council will take a vote on the proposal at the same meeting.
“The power of eminent domain is the ‘big stick’ you get with a CRA,” Dan Eernissee, the city’s economic development director, told the council at its Jan. 8 meeting. “It’s typically not used for economic or community development in this way.”
Cities usually employ eminent domain to take private property for public good — such as condemning a strip mall to build a fire station — and they are required to pay property owners fair market value.
Community Renewal Areas broaden cities’ power of eminent domain within the area’s boundaries. Everett may use it as a last resort to address problems.
Within the proposed CRA, Everett could exercise eminent domain over buildings or vacant properties that:
• “endanger life”
• are a “menace to public health, safety, welfare, or morals”
• “constitute an economic or social liability,” or
• “substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the municipality”
 Examples could include dilapidated structures, “inappropriate” mixes of land or building uses, “poor street or lot layout,” tax delinquencies, or sites that feature “persistent or high levels of unemployment or poverty.”
A CRA should not be seen “as a license to demolish buildings,” Eernissee said, but when push comes to shove with an obstinate landlord, “there has to be an ability for the city to step in.”
The new CRA would fulfill a recommendation in the Metro Everett Plan that the City Council adopted last summer.
CRA boundaries would coincide with those of the Downtown Everett Association’s Business Improvement Area, whose members pay an annual assessment for services such as regular maintenance of common areas.
No additional fees are required of businesses within the CRA, but the council wondered whether an undermanned city code enforcement staff could handle the additional workload.
“Part of this, for the city of Everett, is improving our code enforcement regulation as well,” Eernissee said last week. “It’s procedurally inefficient. A lot of it is very reactive, rather than proactive.”
He proposed to the council using volunteer stakeholders to rate each of the 88 blocks in the CRA on a variety of criteria, including an “eye test.”
Code enforcement could then work block by block, starting with the ones in most urgent need.
“This program allows us to focus the limited resources we have on some of the most problematic areas,” Mayor Cassie Franklin told council members Jan. 8.
Eernissee advocates prioritizing blocks within the CRA that attract first-time visitors: near the arena, in front of Funko, around the Schack Arts Center and surrounding the Imagine Children’s Museum.
“These are the places where people from the outside come,” he said. “People like to be where people like to be. And they’re very impressionable.”
People like to be in areas where homes and businesses look well-cared for, Eernissee said.
When a building is neglected or has been vacant for years, “it gives the impression people don’t care.”
A public hearing on the proposed Community Renewal Area for downtown is scheduled for the Wednesday, March 4 City Council meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. in council chambers at 3002 Wetmore Ave.
If the council approves the CRA, it would take effect three days afterward.

Due to editor's error, the print version of this story had the wrong month and meeting location. This online version corrects the information. The Tribune regrets the errors.



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