City of Tukwila might fight crime by buying properties

The city of Tukwila proposes to devour crime rather than just taking a bite out of it.

The Tukwila City Council will consider a staff recommendation to purchase seven commercial properties along Tukwila International Boulevard and tearing down the businesses because of high crime.

The city of Tukwila proposes to devour crime rather than just taking a bite out of it.

Mayor Jim Haggerton and city staff have recommended that the City Council approve a proposal to buy seven commercial properties along Tukwila International Boulevard, demolish the crime-infested motels and find other uses for the land.

The properties include the Boulevard, Great Bear, Knight’s Inn, Jet Inn and Spruce motels as well as the Cash America Pawn Shop and the Sam Smoke Shop. The motels and shops stretch along the boulevard from South 141st Street to South 146th Street.

“We’re done and fed up with the crime,” said Derek Speck, city economic development administrator during a phone interview. “The properties need to get cleaned up.”

City crime-trend reports over the last five years rank the properties as among the highest in Tukwila for felonies and misdemeanors. The area also ranks high over the last year in the number of calls for police service.

There’s been crime problems since the city annexed that area more than 20 years ago, Speck said.

The council will consider the proposed ordinance to give the city authority to buy the properties through condemnation at its 7 p.m. Monday, April 22 Committee of the Whole meeting. The council is scheduled to discuss the issue, take public comment and then reconvene later the same night in a special meeting to vote on the ordinance.

“It’s all in the name of crime reduction,” Haggerton said. “In our strategic plan we adopted in 2012 one of the highest priorities was to reduce crime with special emphasis on Tukwila International Boulevard.”

The city adopted the urban renewal area that includes the commercial properties in 2000 under a state law that allows municipalities to purchase, redevelop, and sell properties in blighted areas in order to revive those areas for public benefits. Community renewal law allows municipalities to use eminent domain to acquire the properties at fair market value to the property owners.

“It’s a very specialized action,” Speck said about the use of eminent domain. “It can be a very sensitive issue.”

Speck said city studies proved blight in the area in the late 1990s that led to the formation of the urban renewal area.

“You have to find there is blight,” Speck said. “Once you do, you don’t have to go back and find blight. We have a plan now that we are implementing.”

Speck has talked to three of the seven property owners. All of the owners received written notification about the city’s proposal to buy the land.

“The three I talked to seemed positive about it and willing to sell at a fair price,” Speck said. “With eminent domain, you have to pay fair market value.”

The seven properties could cost anywhere from $8 million to $13 million, Speck said. If the council approves the ordinance, staff will conduct appraisals for the cost of purchasing the properties, research options to sell or use the land, and return to the council for direction.

The council included $400,000 per year for a crime reduction project in the 2013-14 budget. Speck said that fund could be used to acquire as much as a $5 million bond to be used for buying the properties.

“If the cost is over $5 million, we’ll have to find extra money,” Speck said. “We have not done that yet. We also could sell the property.”

The proposed land purchases are separate from the Tukwila Village project. But a couple of the properties are adjacent to where the city has an agreement with a developer to turn city-owned land into a mixed-use development that will include a new King County Library System library, apartments, a neighborhood police resource center, retail, restaurants, public meeting space and an outdoor plaza.

“The timing is right,” Haggerton said. “We’re about to break ground on Tukwila Village and the library is finalizing plans to expand. We expect to have groundbreaking in a month or two. And I felt the timing is right with the crime statistics.”

The city used its power of eminent domain to buy and demolish old single-family homes that were illegally converted to apartments on a portion of the proposed Tukwila Village.

Tukwila’s urban renewal area is generally bounded by South 140th Street, 42nd Avenue South, South 146th Street, and 37th Avenue South.

“Hopefully, before the end of 2013 we will see some real positive action up on Tukwila International Boulevard,” Haggerton said.

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