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Homeowners, fire district continue showdown over property
MARYSVILLE For now, for both sides, the issue amounts to a waiting game.
"What we will do is try and negotiate a fair price with Mr. Long," said Getchell Fire Department Chief Travis Hots.
"Our lives are basically on hold," said property owner Ed Long, who with wife Pat Weiland, is bashing plans by the fire department to take the couple's property in order to demolish their home and replace it with a new fire station.
With the backing of the fire department's board, Hots has said officials will use eminent domain to take the property if necessary. Weiland promised she and her husband would fight that action "tooth and nail."
But after consultation with an attorney, she also admits that the couple may end up waging a losing battle.
Facing 84th Avenue in unincorporated Snohomish County, the Long home sits just a hundred yards or so from the current Getchell fire station near the corner of 84th and 99th Avenue NE. The current fire facility is one Hots describes as crowded and outdated, built in 1962 for what was then an all-volunteer squad.
At the same time, after what he described as a rigorous search, fire officials decided the Long property is the perfect location for a newer, more modern facility.
"That property is the ideal spot," Hots said.
While Long and Weiland say numerous vacant or available properties sit nearby, Hots argues any other location could add to response times.
"It would be irresponsible if we went elsewhere," Hots said. "In any emergency, seconds count."
While they definitely don't want to lose their home, both Long and Weiland also are anything but complimentary about what they say has been the communication and information coming from the fire department.
"We just feel like we haven't been treated very well," Weiland said. "There hasn't been much courtesy there."
Long said his first contact with the fire department came over a year ago in what he described as a brief, "over-the-fence" conversation with Hots. Long said the fire chief asked him if he wanted to sell his property. The answer was "no" and Long said he really didn't think much more about the issue until the property between his and the current fire station was scooped up by the fire department.
Eventually, Long and Weiland appeared before the fire board, presenting their side of the case, essentially arguing they want to keep their home, but also holding up that home as a piece of local history.
Long said a neighborhood historian dates the former farmhouse back to at least 1910, though it may have been built closer to the turn of the century. He further argues it is one of the few remaining farmhouses left in the area.
The couple tried unsuccessfully to have the home designated an historical landmark. Long said the effort failed largely because of some changes made to the original structure, primarily new windows and the addition of aluminum siding.
According to Long and Weiland, their next communication from the fire department came months after their appearance before the fire board. That communication was a phone call announcing the department wanted to send an appraiser to look at the home. Long and Weiland initially refused to cooperate, but relented after discussions with an attorney.
The appraisal apparently was done almost a month ago, but both sides say no price tag has yet been set. That may change shortly, as Hots said he hopes to get the issue settled as soon as possible. Long indicated he expected an initial offer within a month of the appraisal.
In discussing the need for a new fire station, Hots talked a lot about increased calls for service and an ever-growing department. He said the number of emergency calls reaching the station has jumped from a few hundred a year to more than 1,000 in 2007.
Hots also said the department now consists of 48 full- and part-time firefighters. The station now is manned 24 hours a day by four firefighters, firefighters Hots contends are living in a building that just wasn't designed with living quarters in mind. Further, he said the structure isn't big enough to house the department's equipment and lacks parking.
"The current station is just very inadequate," Hots said.
In the meantime, Long and Weiland say they live constantly wondering about their future, a future they thought settled when they moved to their current home from Seattle nine years ago. Long said the couple deliberately sought out a rural setting.
Even sitting near a busy roadway, the house is set far enough back from the road that it seems highly secluded. A large garden stretches out to one side. Long said the couple debated even planting the garden this year, but finally decided to move forward.
"This is a beautiful space," Weiland said.
"I sympathize with Mr. Long and his wife," Hots said. "This was not an easy decision."
But he also added it was a decision that had to be made, that a new station in that location would help meet the safety needs of some 4,500 local residents.