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Hillsboro hopes to acquire property necessary to proceed with a roadway widening project along Jackson School Road.

PMG FILE PHOTO: - Signage warns drivers along Northeast Jackson School Road in Hillsboro of tree removal work in October.The Hillsboro city government has filed eminent domain lawsuits against property owners along Northeast Jackson School Road to acquire land the city needs to proceed with a controversial roadway widening project.

One of the four lawsuits filed Monday, Feb. 11, in Washington County Circuit Court names property owners who haven't reached an agreement with the city.

Two other lawsuits were filed against property owners whom the city says it has been unable to reach. A fourth lawsuit sues the Jackson School Homeowners Association, which was prepared to sign an agreement with the city but failed to get sufficient approval from association members, according to HOA board members.

"These actions are timed to acquire the property consistent with the project's construction schedule," said city spokesperson Patrick Preston in an email.

For decades, Hillsboro planners have wanted to widen a 1½-mile, two-lane stretch of Jackson School Road between Northeast Grant Street and Evergreen Road, adding sidewalks and bike lanes, a center turn lane, and additional street lighting to improve safety and keep pace with projected increases in traffic, officials say.

To do that, the city has needed to sign agreements and easements with nearly 200 property owners along the road.

The project's most controversial element involves cutting down about 300 trees in the area to make room for the widened road. Tree-cutting along the roadway began in October 2019.

Kim and Scott Harrington, the defendants in one lawsuit, haven't signed an agreement with the city to build on their property due to objections about the city's property acquision process.

Kim Harrington's parents, Charlene and Charles Gebhardt, also haven't signed an agreement with the city for construction on their property, which is adjacent to Harrington's. The Gebhardts say the project will irreparably damage their property, which includes a nearly 100-year-old weeping willow tree. The city has not filed a lawsuit to acquire the Gebhardt's property.

Other property owners, including those who have already signed agreements with the city, have said the project will decrease their property values.

The Harringtons and other property owners have also complained that the Hillsboro government hasn't been transparent enough about its plans for the road widening. They argue the project could be pared down to reduce its impact on residents. The city maintains that the scope of the project is necessary to meet its transportation goals and improve traffic and pedestrian safety.

In October, the City Council authorized acquiring remaining properties through eminent domain. Oregon law permits cities to forcibly acquire private property for projects such as transportation infrastructure.

According to its lawsuit, the city needs to acquire five parcels of land owned and maintained by the Jackson School HOA — on the west side of Jackson School Road where there's a stone wall separating houses from the road, and near the intersection at Northeast Harewood Street, where the city plans to build a roundabout. 

Sal Bianco, a board member with the Jackson School HOA, said the association won't contest the lawsuit because the board has been willing to sign a nearly $300,000 compensation agreement with the city for its property. But while the HOA board was OK with the agreement, the association didn't receive sufficient approval from about 560 member households in the neighborhood, Bianco said.

According to laws governing how homeowners associations can sell property, the HOA needed 75% of members to approve the agreement. Bianco said fewer than 75% of members even responded to an electronic ballot the association sent out, barring the HOA from signing the agreement. About 260 members who responded to the electronic ballot voted in favor of the agreement, city officials said in an email.

Bianco said the lack of a sufficient response might be because most members in the HOA aren't affected by the project.

Bianco's experience negotiating with the city doesn't align with the complaints other property owners have had, Bianco said.

"It's the opposite of, 'Oh, the sky is falling,'" Bianco said. "No, it's blue outside and there's no fog today. I've never had a problem with the city of Hillsboro at all. It has been excellent."

Bianco said the city has been willing to have engineers come out to the property to address the association's concerns with the construction plans.

Bianco expects the litigation to proceed without conflict, allowing the Hillsboro city government to acquire the property.

Scott Harrington could not be immediately reached for comment Friday about the city's lawsuit. For the project, the city needs to acquire an easement for a 2,700-square-foot parcel of land near Harrington's home, court records show.

On Feb. 4, the City Council awarded a $21.4 million contract to Pacific Excavation Inc. for construction on the project, which is expected to be completed by winter 2022.

Residents can meet with representatives from Pacific Excavation during an open house from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 27, at the Hillsboro Brookwood Library, located at 2850 N.E. Brookwood Parkway.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the owners of a property with a 100-year-old willow tree. The story has been update to reflect the accurate owners. It has also been updated with additional details about the lawsuits.


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