City's 'eminent domain' threatens Port Orchard homes

PORT ORCHARD, Wash. – City officials want to expand the walking trail along the Sinclair Inlet. To do it, the city may seize five waterfront properties using eminent domain – and that has those homeowners seeing red.

“This is my home. Right now, I can’t think of anything I would take for it,” said homeowner John Haynes. “I want to stay right here.”

Spend a few minutes along Bay Street and you’ll understand why no one wants to leave.  Stunning views of the Olympic Mountains and the Puget Sound says it all.

“I don’t want to give it up,” said Haynes.

Port Orchard Mayor Tim Matthes agrees – he is convinced the waterfront’s beauty is key to reviving the city’s struggling downtown.

“Every city is trying to find that magic potion that makes their downtown viable again,” said Matthes. “I think we need to have a good solution that works for property owners, the public, the city.”

Since 2011, talk of seizing five properties along the water has hung over this neighborhood like a fog. But now the city has invested $200,000 to appraise the properties, and homeowners worry that their days are numbered.

“Eminent domain has its purpose when it’s absolutely needed,” said homeowner Randy Jones.  “But it is a last resort.”

Jones runs a charter fishing boat and a vacation rental out of his home. He says it’s un-American to take his home so the city can replace it with park benches and a bike path.

“When the government can seize your house for a viewing platform, that’s not democracy,” said Jones.

Matthes said opening the areas to the public will bring in visitors and much-needed revenue to the local economy.

But Jones has lived there for 35 years, and he said the politicians need to go back to the drawing board.

“I’d like to see the city turn it into something that’s working for its citizens and not against them,” said Jones.

The mayor said seizing the properties via eminent domain is expensive and not a sure thing just yet.

The homeowners are skeptical and say they want to be kept in the loop about what's going on; Matthes said he'll make sure they stay informed.