Photos by Eric Mathison
Slideshow: Doris Cassan talks to a couple about SeaTac's condemnation action against the Cassans' surface parking lot. Cassan attorney John Houlihan, center, listens in. Click on the image for more photos from the story.

Battle over eminent domain, SeaTac development intensifies

As SeaTac officials introduced their plans during an open house for a city center/entertainment district across from the airport light-rail station, they face serious opposition from commercial property owners and some residents.

The revolt comes from city council decisions to condemn a surface parking lot for use as a public parking garage, to place a moratorium on development in the city center area and to consider major zoning changes.

Acting City Manager Todd Cutts reported about 150 residents showed up for the Dec. 7 open house at the SeaTac Holiday Inn.

"There was great participation from all sectors-most importantly the residents," Cutts said.

The residents expressed strong support for the plans for a downtown area featuring restaurants, entertainment venues, shopping and other commercial uses, according to Cutts. He admitted that the 16 attendees representing commercial businesses did not voice strong support.

The 82-acre site would be located across from the light rail station at South 176th Street and International Boulevard.

"We are resolved to develop a downtown core that will enhance the lifestyle of our residents," Cutts declared.

But while city officials presented their open house in the hotel's 12th floor conference center overlooking the planning area, James and Doris Cassan rented a room next door with displays of their own.

The Cassans own the Dollar park and fly surface parking lot at 17400 International Boulevard. The city has condemned the property and staffers say they want to build a public parking garage on the site for SeaTac residents and airport hotel guest who patronize the city center/entertainment district.

In a Times/News interview, Doris Cassan said she and her husband have presented three proposals to the city for a mixed-use development on the site as part of a six-year development agreement they signed with the city.

All have been rejected, she added.

City officials offered the Cassans $2 million less than they paid for the property two years ago because of declining property values.

"But, I'm not a seller, I'm a keeper," Doris Cassan emphasized.

James Cassan said consultants advising city officials are "not in the real world of business." It is impossible to compete for retail customers against nearby Southcenter with 450 businesses to choose from, according to James Cassan.

Doris Cassan added that Sea-Tac travelers leave the city quickly if they are not staying at an airport hotel.

"The airport is not a destination," Doris Cassan declared.

She also indicated that fighting the eminent domain action is court will be more than a business decision.

"A property right is a human right," Doris Cassan said. "Government has become too aggressive in taking from individuals and businesses."

The Cassans have enlisted the help of the Institute for Justice, a leading critic of eminent domain, and the Evergreen Freedom Foundation.

Cutts emphasized that council members have directed staffers to talk with the Cassans about entering into a settlement. The city has not filed an eminent domain action in court yet, Cutts added.

"At the end of the day, the city of SeaTac takes no pleasure (in this condemnation action,)" Cutts noted.

In the Times/News interview, John Houlihan, attorney for the Cassans, charged that the city is intending to find a national developer to build a mixed-use development on the site instead of just building a garage.

"It doesn't take a law degree to tell what's right or wrong in this case," Houlihan declared.

Houlihan added that when cities impose a "top-down" town-square type development, it usually fails.

"How's Burien doing?" Houlihan asked rhetorically.

Houlihan also charged that the city center project will be very costly for SeaTac taxpayers.

Lawmakers also received an earful during public comments at their Dec. 8 council meeting.

Planning Commission member Rick Lucas said commercial property owners should be allowed to develop their property the way they want, but with some rules.

"We should have zoning laws that allow businesses to develop at the highest and best use," Lucas added. "In the past 20 years, there haven't been any new developments in SeaTac that are bad."

William Maurer, executive director of the Institute of Justice, said projects developed by using eminent domain normally result in the city taking on a large debt and not generating the expected tax revenue and jobs.

"Victory may leave a city worse off," Maurer concluded.

Chris Boysen, whose family has owned SeaTac commercial property since 1941, said SeaTac businesses would face a high risk of failure if they are forced into non-airport related businesses.

Resident Earl Gipson called for the resignation of planning director Steve Butler as well as lifting of the moratorium and withdrawal of the condemnation proceedings.

Gordon Tang, owner of the Jet Motel property along International Boulevard, said he is ready to partner with Marriott to build an eight-story hotel on his property.

But, the city is planning to run a "goofy" new street through his property dividing up his parcels. If forced to build the hotel on one acre, instead of all three acres, Marriott would have to charge $300 per night for a room instead of $150, according to Tang.

"That would kill the project," Tang added.

Eric Jacobs, Marriott's senior vice president of development from Washington D.C., backed up Tang.

Jacobs noted Tang has the money to get the project going.

Resident Vicki Lockwood asked, "How did we get so adversarial? We should start shaking hands with each other and let businesses do what they are good at."

Mayor Ralph Shape is appointing an ad hoc committee to advise lawmakers on the city's zoning plans for the city center area.

Councilman Chris Wythe said he appreciated the conversations he had at the open house, especially with people opposed to his views.

"There is a middle," Wythe concluded.

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Mr. Butler-Please Leave

I would like to reiterate my call for the SeaTac Director of Planning, Steve Butler’s resignation. This has come to a head because property and business owners have begun to share their stories in dealing with the SeaTac Planning Department. Withholding decision documents and their distribution so that parties of record cannot appeal his decisions. Writing notices and closing appeal deadlines prior to Public Hearings (what good does it do after the appeal period is closed). Writing minutes that exclude any negative comments of his agenda or Citizen input. Writing codes that gives himself the ultimate authority whether he is qualified or not to make a judgment. The list is almost endless.

His actions have driven wedges between neighbors, businesses, and damaged the credibility of some of our other fine City employees. The Council SHOULD be able to trust the staff, however, it has now been proven time and time again that is not the case. The persuasive, elegant, and time consuming PowerPoint presentations by the Planning Department under Mr. Butler’s tutelage have sugar coated highly questionable and Citizen/Business damaging alterations to the SeaTac Municipal Code and administrative polices that serve no purpose but to give bureaucratic control to himself. The eminent domain decision is more of the same.

To Mr. Butler: There is nothing here that I have not said to your face. While I do not wish you on any city, please leave ours so that we can begin to repair the grief and damage you have caused over the many years you have been employed here.


Earl Gipson


You can see a video about SeaTac's eminent domain abuse at

There seems to be a trend

There seems to be a trend that has developed at SeaTac city hall. There was a subdivision code that took years to hash out. The city proposed to add many regulations and transfer authority to the Planning Director. Then, there was the tree ordinance that would have added incredible restrictions and penalties to people who cut trees in the city. After that came the major zoning code update which is proposing to add many more regulations and transfer more authority over the the Planning Director. Now, they are using eminent domain to condemn a long time property owner's business so that they can give it to another developer or build a city parking garage.

Is there a common thread in all of these proposals?

In any event, there is currently a major chasm between the property owners and the city staff and council. The city wants to increase regulations, transfer many rights from the property owners to the city, use eminent domain to take property instead of working with the property owners, and try to force their dream of a city center on a market that may not want it...all at taxpayers expense of over $100 million. This is what happens when the staff and council make major decisions in closed-door executive session meetings. Ideas are not properly vetted and when they are revealed they tend to blow up.

After Election Surprise

Dear Citizens of SeaTac,

Here is your after election surprise. The new city center that will bankrupt the TAX paying citizens of SeaTac and drive the business owners away from participating with their establishments.

Remember I ran for council position # 4 based on honesty and integrity as the foundation. What you got was lies and more lies about SeaTac needs to keep moving forward.

Here are our options:

1) Put the proposition on the ballot in 2011 for an elected mayor.

2) Run candidates for city council in 2011 that care about their community with honesty and integrity built into their foundation. Remember the Angle Lake 4 are still in charge until 2011 with majority votes on the council. So they can force feed you any dish of gruel you want for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

3) A recall election of the anti-citizen council members could be the next step to remove the cancerous culture that has prevailed since 1990 with this gang.

I find it amazing that the citizens keep believing this fairy tale from the council and staff. You need to start getting engaged and spend time hearing the issues and acting upon them.

Have a happy holiday!

Following the Feds' Example

The city's just following the example set by the feds for years. They've been trying to take over a canoe livery in my home state of Michigan that lies next to the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore for years so they can be the only canoe livery in the immediate area. They already have taken over campgrounds for the same effect..... So far, the business has fended them off, but it's been very expensive for them. Their family has owned the land and run the business since 1964. Best of luck to your folks.....

The author

who taught this guy mathison how to write? one sentence is not a paragraph. this has got to be the most poorly written article i have seen in a long long time. and there are a lot of journalists who write very poorly out there. but this guy definitely takes the cake. a 6th grader could do a much better job. do yourself a favor mathison, go back to school, take some english composition classes, and learn how to write a decent article.

Pot, meet kettle.

ceanf, funny you should write your response above and make so many glaringly obvious errors yourself, the most obvious being using all lower case and starting sentences with a conjunction.

A paragraph is something that relays a different topic from the previous paragraph. Sometimes a single sentence is all that's necessary. It may also be separated out to make a more emphatic point.

Re: the author

Ceanf, the small paragraphs is something we are drilled with day one in Journalism school. We do it because looking at a block of text on a page is daunting.
Short paragraphs break it up, make it more aesthetically pleasing once the story is placed on the page.
It is also not grammatically incorrect, even if it looks weird.
You noticed other Journalists doing it too because, well that's what we do.
Another thing we are taught to do is write it so a sixth grader can understand it. Because we are writing these articles so everyone can understand it. Including yourself.

Keith Daigle,
Proud Highline Times contributor

Go troll somewhere else, ceanf

This is an important subject for SeaTac.

Facts and Truth Trumps

Journalists should be more concerned with the facts and truth than politically correct form or candy covering the facts. Mr. Mathison has described both sides of this issue in a factual manner as it was presented to him. We should applaud Mr. Mathison and thank him.

Where have you been?

I don't care about context, grammer, or any other trivial BS. This is news and that is what counts. If the "fourth estate" actually reports the news it would not be in such dire financial strates. Keep going Eric Mathison!

Our Millions for Parking

Lets see if I get this straight. A surface parking lot exists across the street from the airport. The owners want to build a parking structure/hotel that serves the airport (right across the street) at their own risk and expense. The City wants to take their property to build a parking structure (at a cost of $50 million dollars) to service the airport across the street at taxpayers expense.

Insanity seems to be the order of the day.

It is entirely routine in

It is entirely routine in journalism to have one-sentence paragraphs. English composition classes and 6th grade English assignments would teach Mathison to write in a non-journalistic fashion. There is a huge difference between academic writing and journalistic writing.

You get an F for being an arrogant ignoramus, ceanf. See me after class.

Please Stay on Topic

We are talking about Eminent Domain, not anyone's education or writing methods. Good grief.

Eminent Domain-Consultants Methodology

Can't find a position, can't make it on your own. Okay be a consultant. Advise government departments/municipalities to use eminent domain. All the time knowing you will be paid by tax dollars. Working for private parties who are more cost conscious and could go bankrupt are not as accepting to current trends. Most of time you do not live in the area, you do not work in the areaI and many times you do not even live in the state. How can you represent the citizens or the property owners?

The bottom line is that

The bottom line is that gov't cannot create wealth. All they can do is redistribute it. It takes PRIVATE businesses to create wealth and increase the GDP. When are our bueracrats going to wake up and realize this?????

Eminent Domain

There is a new book "Yes, You Can STOP City Hall!" a true story of how the citizens of La Crosse, WI stopped the city from taking over a well run private ambulance service. It is, in a way, a "how to" book of how you can stop government from taking inappropriate actions.
Dave Drewes

Eminent Domain

The right and privilege to own property was one of the Founding Fathers basic principles. Our great USA was developed by rugged pioneers who desired to own property, walked or rode in covered wagons across difficult and dangerous areas just for the privilege to own property. We as citizens of this great country must protect this right for our children and grandchildren.

Deja Vu all over again!

This all looks very similar to what Burien residents are going through with their Planning Commission and city planners regarding the shoreline master program. Do all these city government types go to the same school where they learn to screw the citizens out of their property rights while spending millions of unnecessary dollars so they can pad their resumes for bigger things in the future?

Eminent Domain

You forgot the part where our Founding Fathers killed and stole the land from the "Savage heathens". If we are going to "protect this right for our children and grandchildren", we should expect no different from others who want to steal the land from us.