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County hires appraiser for South First Street expansion

Within two months from now the city of Sunnyside should have a good idea what it will cost to purchase property in order to widen South First Street.

This past Tuesday county commissioners approved a $25,000 contract with Larry Hitchcock to appraise 42 properties on South First Street between the I-82 junction and Lincoln Avenue.

Sunnyside contracted with the county to provide the appraisal information. All costs will be paid by the city to the county.

City Manager Bob Stockwell said the project will provide a roundabout at South Hill Road and South First Street, as well as two travel lanes and a turn lane. City officials hope to see construction begin this spring.

South First Street will also receive improved curb, gutter and sidewalks, as well as new street lighting, noted Sunnyside Public Works Director Jim Bridges.

"We may need to relocate existing utilities such as telephone, gas, cable, power and irrigation to fit the new street width," Bridges added.

He explained the chief benefit of the roundabout will be to "keep traffic flowing as much as possible."

Upgrades will also extend to the traffic signal at South First and Lincoln Avenue, where new traffic lights will be installed.

Bridges said the new signal will be automated to change when a vehicle is present. Further, the lights will extend from a mast arm, similar to the flashing yellow at the Midvale Road and Emerald Road intersection, rather than hanging from a wire.

"We're finally getting to the point of acquiring the additional right of way," Stockwell said of the project, which has been two years in the making and is funded with a $1.5 million federal grant.

The amount of land to be purchased will vary from parcel to parcel, Stockwell explained.

"It varies quite a bit from one to the other, there's not a consistent pattern," he added. "One might require buying three feet or another 15 feet. In some cases there may be none at all."

Vern Redifer, Public Works Director for Yakima County, said each parcel owner will by law be offered fair market value for the portion of land needed for the project.

That, he said, will be determined by Hitchcock, who has 60 days to appraise the properties.

In cases where the property owner thinks the portion of their parcel is worth more, Redifer said there could be room to negotiate, but city permission would be required.

"There's always room to negotiate," said Stockwell. " But if they (the landowner) want a price that just can't be justified then we would exercise eminent domain."

That would require the fair market offer to be put in a trust account until a judge ultimately decides what the amount should be, Stockwell said. In the meantime, the city's South First Street project would proceed with the purchased right-of-way.

"But there are still plenty of opportunities to discuss price," he added. "The appraiser will meet with each of the property owners."

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