City likely selling homeless camp land for $440,000

The City of Aberdeen could soon have a minimum price tag of $440,000 for the longtime homeless camp property that was recently cleared of campers, structures and the debris left behind. According to Aberdeen Mayor Erik Larson, city staff workers have calculated $440,000 as the total amount spent on the 8-acre riverfront property, which was purchased a year ago for $298,000 following negotiations between Larson and previous owner Michael Lang.

At the next council meeting Aug. 28, Larson said he would submit a report recommending the city put the vacant property up for sale to at least match the $440,000 the city spent from its abatement fund in order to buy and clear the land. If the council doesn’t approve it, the city would potentially need to take the money out of another fund source.

Minus the $298,000 cost of purchasing the property, the city spent $142,000 through the abatement fund to clear the site of vegetation, provide garbage and portable toilet cleaning services, and to provide the additional work from utilities workers managing the property and eventually clearing all structures and garbage from the site, Larson said.

Each year, the city records expenses in the abatement fund for the cost of addressing nuisances, including enforcement and demolition of unsafe structures. When a property owner is notified and refuses to handle the abatement themselves, the city will take action to address the nuisance and lien the cost of the abatement against the property. Larson said Lang seemed unable to handle the cleanup of his riverfront property, the city decided to take it on and buy the property rather than perform a traditional abatement.

According to the Grays Harbor County Assessor website, the property is worth significantly more at $609,840. Larson said the assessed value was likely higher because another riverfront property just east of it sold for a higher price, and likely got used as a directly comparable property to the homeless camp. When Lang had a private appraisal done before selling the property, it was determined the value was closer to the settled price of $298,000, Larson explained.

There are still some council members who say the city should have never bought the property. Council President Tawni Andrews, who finished third in the four-way primary race for mayor, said she had spent two years pushing for Larson and the city to help Lang clear people from the riverfront camps. Andrews added that she’s against the current plan for the city to purchase another property for homeless people to live in tents after already buying the riverfront land.

“We already bought one property, now we’re going to buy another. It’s like there’s no end, and there has to be because this isn’t a permanent solution,” said Andrews. “I don’t support buying more land, we’re hemorrhaging money.”

Larson said he’s been surprised at the level of pushback recently over the city’s previous actions buying the riverfront property, and said he wonders why there wasn’t more opposition back when the city was planning to buy it, or several months ago before the city decided to clear it.

“There were definitely ways it could’ve ended up being not positive for the city, but hindsight is 20/20, and we’re really getting into a spot it’s in our rearview window,” said Larson.

There are already parties interested in purchasing the land, said Larson, and if the sale is approved by council, there would be a bidding process later on. He added it’s possible the city would gain a net profit by selling the property, and that the revenue would likely end up back in the abatement fund.