Salem-Keizer board approves eminent domain to take St. Edward church land

St. Edward parish member Karen Scharosch urges the Salem-Keizer School Board not to pass a resolution authorizing the district to take church land. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

With the sole school board member representing Keizer abstaining, the Salem-Keizer School Board voted Tuesday to move ahead with forcing a growing Catholic parish to sell a vacant lot to the district.

No one from St. Edward Catholic Church leadership spoke at the board meeting, but Karen Sharosch, who’s been a member of the parish since 1991, urged the board to find another option to expand the adjacent McNary High School.

“Our present church was set up so that it could have a quiet and peaceful atmosphere and we want to maintain that atmosphere,” Sharosch said.

The vote allows district staff to take 6.18 acres of bare land from St. Edward Catholic Church using eminent domain if the district and church can’t come to an agreement on a sale price.

Eminent domain is a legal process allowing government bodies to take private property for public use, and then compensate the owner with a fair price.

That land would be used for a planned expansion of McNary High School to accommodate a growing student body, projected to be over 2,300 students by 2025.

Empty land is scarce in growing Keizer, and by law the district cannot use land outside the city’s urban growth boundary to build schools.

Keizer resident Deanna Fuller urged the district to lease the land they needed from St. Edward while working toward a longer-term solution for a second high school in Keizer.

“I have heard a lot of people say that if they knew you were going to take the church’s land from them they would not have voted yes in the last election,” she said, referring to the 2018 bond measure that authorized the construction at McNary.

Chuck Lee, the school board member representing Keizer, is a member of St. Edward. He said he appreciated the difficulty of the decision and would abstain because of his personal connection to the church.

“To me it’s a moral conflict of interest,” he said.

Board members Paul Kyllo, left, and Chuck Lee, center, listen to testimony against the St. Edward land acquisition. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

The district first approached the church about selling the land in the summer of 2017. Negotiations broke down after an appraiser hired by the district valued the land at $1.39 million, which parish leaders said was below a fair market value.

District staff will now send the church a written offer to buy the land, which church leaders have 40 days to accept or reject, said Kevin Shuba, an attorney hired by the district to negotiate the sale.

If the church doesn’t agree to sell, the district would seek a court order condemning the land. The case could be settled from there if both parties agree on a fair price, or go to a trial where a jury would decide how much the district should pay.

Board members Kathy Goss, Sheronne Blasi, Jim Green, Paul Kyllo and Jesse Lippold voted to let the district move forward with using eminent domain. Board member Marty Heyen was absent.

Got a tip? Reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.