Council authorizes mayor to make deal for riverfront homeless camp land

The City of Aberdeen is nearing the purchase of a controversial property along the Chehalis River where many homeless people live in tents, shacks and vehicles.

During Wednesday’s Aberdeen City Council meeting, the council approved a motion authorizing Mayor Erik Larson to negotiate a final price for the city to purchase the land from its owner, Mike Lang.

The motion allows Larson to finalize a price for the property for no more than $295,000. Larson later told The Daily World that that maximum was the amount he settled on in recent discussions with Lang. According to the county assessor’s website, the property is valued at $609,840 for taxing purposes.

At Wednesday’s council meeting, the authorization was approved by a voice vote, but a few loudly voted “no.”

The only thing remaining is for the city to draft a final agreement to purchase the property that both Larson and Lang would have to sign. Larson said he’s working with the city’s legal counsel to formulate an agreement, and that depending on Lang’s approval, the city would finalize purchase in “the next few weeks.”

Lang purchased the eight acres of waterfront property 25 years ago for $350,000, according to a letter he wrote to the council back in February. In the letter, Lang said he has been unable to sell the property and is overwhelmed by managing it.

Sam Hutchinson, an Ocean Shores resident, had been acting as Lang’s power of attorney in recent months to attempt to remove people from the property via formal evictions. Hutchinson said during Wednesday’s meeting he felt the city “low-balled” Lang with this price.

In social media postings, some have speculated the city wanted to acquire the property to develop it for a park or some other purpose. Larson said he does not intend to develop it in that way, and that it’s a move to clear off the property without going through the legal abatement process.

“The goal was basically to limit liability to the City of Aberdeen due to the ongoing nature of the property,” he said. “There was a very high likelihood the city was going to have to take action against the property owner relating to abating the issues, not necessarily because he did anything wrong, but I truly don’t believe he has the resources necessary to manage the property as the owner.”

Larson said there isn’t a clear plan yet regarding how the city will manage the property, other than the broad goal of securing and cleaning up the property. He said the city intends to work with local groups to find housing for the people living there. Scores of people are living along the river and some have been there for years.

“Our intentions at this point are to secure the property, begin the cleanup process, and work with local nonprofits and agencies that address homelessness with relocating the individuals on the property,” said Larson, adding he does not intend to keep people living on the land. “We do not have interest at this time to maintain any sort of homeless facility on the property.”

Prior to the motion’s approval, council member Kathi Prieto made a motion to table the decision, and said she wanted more information first.

“I want further discussion into this. I feel we need more time, and more information,” said Prieto, whose tabling motion failed.

In the past several weeks, Larson said Lang has felt that increased media attention on the property was “stressful” for Lang, and influenced the property owner’s decisions to meet with Larson concerning it.

“I think the media attention was really wearing on him, it was just a stressful deal,” Larson said.