UPDATE: City officials decided to delay changing the locks after Sharon Alexander said she has a doctor appointment and could not leave by the deadline. Alexander and other tenants say that they should have received assistance in finding another place to put their businesses.
A showdown is looming over the property that Gladstone recently purchased for a police station on Portland Avenue.
On Nov. 9, a 6-1 City Council vote authorized the city to spend $907,900 on acquiring the 1.93 acres at 18505 Portland Ave. Architectural and engineering proposals will be going before council, and city officials estimate that it will be about two years from the beginning of construction planning to the completion of a new police station.
The city purchased the property as of Dec. 21. The purchase agreement stipulates that leasors and property owners fully vacate the property no later than Jan. 2.
But 38-year Gladstone resident Sharon Alexander, 70, has worked as a hairdresser there for 19 years and isn't planning on leaving the site which includes her address at 18557 Portland Ave. Alexander works two days a week at Hair Lines N' Designs; she has regular customers who have worked with her for more than 30 years.
"My customers are right there with me, and they say they'll continue to come here as long as I'm here," she said.
She and other tenants say that they should have received assistance in finding another place to put their businesses, and they should received moving expenses. Unlike other tenants, Alexander never signed a letter that "releases the city from any obligation it might have under state or federal law."
On Jan. 17, Alexander received a letter from the city denying her request for relocation benefits and saying that they would change the locks on the building on Friday, Jan. 20. City officials claim that they had no record of Alexander being a "sole proprietor." City officials decided to delay changing the locks after Alexander said she has a doctor appointment last week and could not leave by the deadline.
City officials say that Alexander does not qualify as a displaced person, under the law, because she does not own the business nor does she reside there. Although she is an independent contractor of Hair Lines N' Designs, Alexander says that the city is still responsible for her moving expenses.
Gladstone City Administrator Eric Swanson said that tenants paid month-to-month rent to the former owner of the property. Two of the four businesses that are refusing to vacate have not had a business license since 2014, he said.
In consultation with legal counsel, Swanson said that the city wants to get the property cleared and ready for development. He called the property an eyesore, including broken-down cars and used tires that will attract mosquitoes if allowed to remain until summer.
"The sooner that people see that there is some progress being made there, the better," Swanson said.
Alexander has been paying rent of $160/month through Dec. 31. Gladstone closed on the property transaction in December, and Alexander has not been paying rent to the city for January. Swanson said that no action is being taken through Jan. 20, and he has a fiduciary responsibility to maintain and secure the property.
"I'm using water and electricity, and I don't want to be a squatter, so I'd be happy to pay some fair rent," Alexander said. "As soon as the folks at City Hall do what's right, I'll give them the keys."
Other tenants are staying put in a renewed belief that the city improperly handled the property transaction.
"We had an attorney who said that this waiver letter wasn't worth the paper it was printed on," Gary Nichols, president of Timberline Development.
Timberline Development, a former tenant of the Kmetic Trust that sold the land to the city, retained attorney Cynthia Fraser to send a letter to the city of Gladstone.
"You can't make someone sign a waiver," Fraser said. "The government needs to treat everyone appropriately and fairly. I want them to do right by their citizens, and that's the purpose of the law."
Swanson said that Fraser declined to pay the less than $300 for the city provide the public records associated with the property owners and the tenants showing that the city conducted the transaction legally. Swanson said that one tenant, the Sherie Hildreth Ovarian Cancer Foundation, will be allowed to stay on through March.
"It wound up being an accommodation of some additional months where the city would have been eligible to collect rent," Swanson said.
As a former assistant attorney general for the state of Oregon specializing in condemnation law, Frasher said, "In defense of the city, it's a complex process. They're trying to do a voluntary transaction, but you still need to look at the law. Whether you're doing a condemnation or an acquisition, they need to obtain an appraisal and provide relocation benefits."
Alexander has experience fighting City Hall, when she was running the hair-design business out of her home and needed a home-occupation permit. After getting the regulations changed, she was appointed to the Planning Commission in the mid 1980s.
"One of my sons said, 'Well, you've fought City Hall once and won, so you could do it again,'" Alexander said.