Seattle landlord Hugh Sisley is fighting an attempt by the city to take one of his Roosevelt neighborhood properties using eminent domain.
Seattle landlord Hugh Sisley is fighting the city’s attempt to use eminent domain to take over one of his Roosevelt neighborhood properties and turn it into a park.
Furthermore, Sisley says Mayor Ed Murray and other officials trespassed on his Northeast 65th Street property when they held a news conference there last year, and he’s trying to force the mayor to personally answer for it in court.
Sisley says the city’s primary purpose in taking over the property has been to threaten him into paying court judgments — not to provide the area with public open space.
“The facts and circumstances clearly indicate the city’s actions are arbitrary and capricious,” Sisley’s lawyer wrote in a motion that’s part of the case.
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The landlord, who owns dozens of residential and commercial properties near Roosevelt High School and the Roosevelt light-rail station scheduled to open in 2021, has been battling officials for many years over conditions at some of them.
Until recently, Sisley owed the city more than $3 million in court judgments and interest related to housing-code violations at four of the properties. The property at issue in the eminent-domain case — a vacant, grass-covered lot — is not one of those.
It came into play in March 2015, when Murray and City Attorney Pete Holmes held the news conference there. They said the city would try to seize the property as partial payment for the housing-code violations and then turn it into a pocket park.
The mayor set that plan aside in May after some real-estate developers and affordable-housing advocates opposed it, urging the city to instead designate the property for residential development in order to create more density near light rail.
In August, Roosevelt Development Group (RDG) — which since 2007 has held long-term development rights to many of Sisley’s properties — paid the landlord’s judgments for him. That meant the city could no longer try to take the vacant lot as partial payment.
So in October, at Murray’s request, the City Council approved an ordinance authorizing the city to buy the property or take it using eminent domain.
But before Murray can use eminent domain, he needs a King County Superior Court judge to declare the plan for the property a necessary public use. And then he needs a jury to determine a just amount of compensation for Sisley.
The city filed its petition for eminent domain in May and its public-use application last month. A hearing was scheduled for Friday but later postponed.
Sisley responded with a motion asking for more time and for Murray and three parks department officials, including Michael Shiosaki, the mayor’s husband, to testify.
The motion says the news conference was conducted without permission on the site. Sisley “was shocked to learn city of Seattle officials trespassed upon his land.”
The city’s position is that Roosevelt needs more green space and a new pocket park would help offset recent changes in zoning allowing builders like RDG to construct taller structures.
When reached for comment, Deputy City Attorney John Schochet said he would let the city’s court filings speak for themselves.
Sisley’s lawyer, P. Arley Harrel, says other neighborhoods are more in need of additional park land than Roosevelt, which is near Green Lake Park, Cowen Park and Ravenna Park.
RDG is not fighting the city’s eminent-domain petition.
“RDG originally planned to build apartments and retail space on the property, but we now assume that the city will be taking the land and we are altering our designs to embrace the park,” RDG partner Ed Hewson said in a statement Thursday.
“Although we regret losing the potential apartment units and street frontage, we are working with the city in the condemnation process for the good of the Roosevelt neighborhood.”