- What exactly is the SHO court case about?
There are two elements or “Counts” in the Complaint we filed. Count 1 seeks to clarify that all King County acquired was a surface easement to the corridor and not fee title to the land. Since acquiring the corridor in 1998, King County has always asserted that they acquired fee title, or own the land outright. Count 2 is focused on a specific set of 66 lots where no deed or easement agreement was ever executed before the railroad laid track. King County is claiming fee title ownership of the corridor across these 66 lots through “adverse possession”. The SHO Complaint says all King County acquired was a prescriptive surface easement based on what the railroad actually used. In Count 2, SHO will argue that the width of this prescriptive easement is the width used by the railroad and the current interim trail width of 12 feet.
- Is the goal of this case to stop the paved trail?
No. It is not our purpose to stop the trail. Most homeowners see a properly designed trail as an asset. We do hope that King County will properly interpret the seriousness of our actions and begin a meaningful dialogue to solve trail design issues.
- Regarding Count 1, didn’t we (some of my neighbors) already win on this in federal court?
Many owners along the lake filed takings claims in the US Court of Federal Claims. And, yes, the federal claims court ruled that the deeds that the county acquired only conveyed an easement for trail use; they don’t own the land. The federal claims court ruling will require the federal government to compensate those people for the reduced value of their land as a result of there being a trail on it. But, at this point King County still insists that they own the land outright. The federal claims court ruling will be a case law cornerstone of our Count 1 argument. We feel very good about our chances for a favorable ruling on Count 1.
- When we win on Count 1, what happens then?
The rights that the court determines that the holder of the easement (King County) actually has go into the record for each of our properties. Other consequences are discussed below.
- Will a win on Count 1 stop them from running a sewer line, or underground utilities, or power lines on the rail corridor?
A win on Count 1 will clarify that the rights King County acquired in 1998 only cover a surface easement for trail purposes. Those rights do not include any subsurface or aerial rights. King County or even Sammamish City can still use eminent domain and condemnation to gain subsurface or aerial rights. But, if they chose that route, they have to compensate owners for the taking of their land.
- It seems Count 1 covers the majority of lots along the corridor and that most owners will benefit, is that right?
Yes, a favorable ruling on Count 1 will positively impact most owners along the corridor. That is why we are requesting that all owners along the corridor financially support our efforts regarding Count 1.
- Will a Count 1 win stop King County from building things like restrooms, concession stands, and parking lots in the corridor?
Probably not. Those are arguably trail-related improvements. However, they can only build trail related improvements on land that they have easement rights to.
- Will this ruling stop the county from requiring special use permits and charging people to use the land adjacent to them (trail crossing fees, utility crossing fees, permits and fees required for parking, gardens, etc.)?
Yes. A court injunction may be necessary, but the county cannot charge people to use their own land
Count 2 – Adverse Possession/Prescriptive Easement
- How would I find out if I live in an adverse possession/prescriptive easement area?
There are four adverse possession areas. The addresses for these lots are; 601 to 659 E Lake Samm Pkwy SE, 2811 to 3167 E Lake Samm Pkwy/Sh Ln SE, 4003 to 4069 E Lake Samm Pkwy/Sh Ln SE, and 4229 to 4299 E Lake Samm Pkwy/Sh Ln SE. You can view the King County provided maps at this location.
- What distinguishes these adverse possession/prescriptive easement areas from the rest of the corridor?
Simply, no documents, deeds, easement agreements exist defining the metes and bounds of the railroad easement across these lots. You could say that, back in the 1800s, the railroad just laid track without acquiring any legal right to do so from the underlying fee owner. As the federal claims court ruled that where deeds exist King County only acquired easements and not fee title, the federal claims court also ruled that all King County has across these 66 lots is a prescriptive easement of unknown width.
- What is King County’s legal argument?
King County is asserting that they own the land in fee title. They assert that maps generated in 1917 by the Railroad for tax purposes document their ownership. The maps are not deeds. If you are in a prescriptive easement area, you will lose legal claim to any land up to these “map lines”. The maps referenced above will give some perspective on exactly where these lines are. Note many homes are built with these map lines bisecting the homes.
- What do we want the court to determine in Count 2?
We will seek to have the prescriptive easement width defined as what the railroad actually used. We see that as the interim trail width of 12 feet.
- It would seem that if we get a favorable ruling on Count 2, trail design might be impacted, specifically the width of the finished trail.
Yes, Count 2 could have an impact on the design of the final trail from a couple standpoints. The first would be the county would only be able to build on land defined by the prescriptive easement width and location. The second benefit would be it would eliminate the shifting of the trail off the centerline. Both are positives.
- I live in one of the Adverse Possession/Prescriptive Easement areas. Our access road lies between our house and the trail. How would a win with Count 2 affect us?
The county currently claims it owns the land your access road is on. A win in Count 2 would put control of your access road in your hands. The county request for crossing permits and other requirements associated with your access road would be eliminated. You and your neighbors would control your access road.