Puyallup School District files claim against city over public alley
MELISSA SANTOS; The News Tribune
Puyallup School District officials say the City of Puyallup owes them money for building Puyallup’s new City Hall over a public alleyway that used to border district property.
The district has filed a tort claim against the city saying that the 15-month-old City Hall blocks a public alley the district formerly used to gain access to its headquarters and parking lots.
According to the district’s claim, Puyallup officials didn’t consider the School District’s rights to the alleyway before building its $40 million civic center on top of it last year.
The claim asks for a minimum of $250,000 compensation for loss of access to the alley, which the district says impedes its ability to enter its parking lot and develop the property.
“The city basically has constructed the whole city hall complex over the north-south alley,” said Cliff Foster, a Seattle lawyer representing the School District in the claim. “It completely blocks it.”
The city’s lawyer, Larry Nelson, told the Puyallup City Council last month that state law doesn’t require alleys to be open to vehicle traffic. Public alleys can serve as pedestrian walkways, as the city’s new plaza and promenade does now, he said.
“The use the city makes of that property is legal,” Nelson said Friday. “We really don’t see any legal basis for them to complain.”
The School District headquarters and Puyallup City Hall sit within a block of each other along Meridian Street, with parking lots that border each other along Second Street Southeast.
The School District’s claim, filed Sept. 18, says the city’s building project closed off a former entryway to the district’s southern parking lot. The city’s new building also prevents anyone from using the public alley that once ran behind the City Hall site, Foster wrote Sept. 29 in a memo to the city’s lawyer.
To legally build over the property, the city should have condemned it and paid district officials fair market value for it, Foster wrote. Because the city didn’t do that, the district has cause for an “inverse condemnation” action and can demand compensation retroactively, Foster wrote.
If the city and the district fail to reach an agreement by Tuesday, which is 60 days after the filing of the original claim, the district can take the city to court.
The Puyallup School Board will ultimately have to decide whether court action is necessary, Foster said.
District spokeswoman Karen Hansen wouldn’t comment on the claim other than to say the district is still in the 60-day period before it can file a lawsuit and is trying to work things out with the city.
“That’s where we’re at right now,” Hansen said.
Nelson, the lawyer for the city, said Puyallup officials want to work things out with the School District, but he doesn’t believe the city should have to pay for building over the alley.
He said the district has plenty of driveways it can use to access its property from Second Street Southeast. Meanwhile, the new civic center plaza is available for the public’s use and benefit, Nelson said.
“It isn’t like this part of the real estate was devoted to a parking space for the mayor that no one else can use,” he said.
Nelson added that the School District had plenty of opportunities to speak up about the alley at public hearings held during the civic center’s development phase.
“They participated in that process, but they never brought up this particular issue then,” Nelson said.
Puyallup opened its new five-story City Hall complex in August 2008. The 53,000-square foot building consolidated city services that used to be in different offices, while providing space for retail stores on the ground floor. The total cost of the project, including parking facilities, a public plaza area and sidewalk improvements, was about $40 million.
City officials have recently been working on a plan to sell airspace adjacent to the City Hall to a developer who would build an office building there. Although engineering firm Parametrix signed a letter of intent last year to move into the planned development, those plans haven’t moved forward due to the poor economy, said Puyallup City Manager Gary McLean.
Melissa Santos: 253-552-7058