The Hermiston City Council voted Monday night to vacate a portion of W. Ridgeway Avenue for development purposes – a decision that could lead to a lawsuit against the city.
The issue centers around the old Tum-A-Lum property near Auto Kool. The property owner, Mitco Investments Co., wants to sell it to a developer who plans to build a hotel on the land. In order to accommodate the development, the city voted to vacate 15 feet of W. Ridgeway Avenue that is part of a 60-foot right-of-way west of N. First Street and east of the Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way. Rhonda Sallee, owner of Auto Kool and five other tax lots, objects to the street vacation, arguing it will substantially reduce the value of her land by restricting access in and out of her properties.
The council held a public hearing Monday night to take testimony from both opponents and proponents. Richard Hunsaker of Walterville spoke in favor of the street vacation. Hunsaker represents the potential developer.
“This will benefit all adjacent property owners,” he told the council, adding that he believed 45 feet of right-of-way is adequate for access in and out of the property.
Sallee testified at the hearing with her attorney, George Anderson. Sallee said reducing the right-of-way from 60 to 45 feet “will create a bottleneck of traffic. Any time you reduce part of a street, you reduce the value of all the lots.”
Sallee estimated the damage to her property if 15 feet of the right-of-way were vacated would be as much as $250,000.
“We service rigs and motorhomes that are 52 feet long,” she said. “You have to have enough room to swing in and out with those rigs.”
She told the council she would sue the city if it goes ahead with the street vacation.
Also testifying on behalf of Sallee Monday night was George Ruby of Pendleton, a former district manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation. Ruby, who was being compensated for his testimony, said vacating the 15 feet would create a safety issue for vehicles going in and out of the property. He said it would be optimum to have three separate lanes to allow traffic to flow in and out and said leaving only 45 feet of right-of-way would likely not leave enough room.
Jerry Imsland, a certified real estate appraiser from Pendleton testified that he believed the property would be more valuable with a 60-foot right-of-way, but said he has not yet appraised the land.
Anderson said vacating the 15 feet will not leave sufficient room for safe highway access. He told the council a wide turn lane onto W. Ridgeway would be required, sidewalks would need to be installed for pedestrians, and two wide lanes leading out of the property are needed.
He told the council that the city “would pay dearly” for the 15 feet. Anderson said the vacation would benefit just one party – the developer – while damaging the Sallee property, and creating public safety issues.
“We’re all for economic development, but how far you go for economic development?” he asked. “The city is favoring an unknown and unproven developer on the backs of good citizens.”
The council voted 6-1 in favor of the street vacation with Manuel Gutierrez voting in against the vacation.
Hermiston City Manager Byron Smith said that the city has been talking with ODOT and indicated current ODOT employees have not notified the city of any concerns over the street vacation. He also noted that the access road to Home Depot is a 30-foot easement and “services it very well.”
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