‘Gift’ runs afoul of law

A newly refurbished gazebo on Ericksen Avenue comes replete with several signs, including a stop work order from the city’s code enforcement office. Neighbors moved the structure into the city right of way without first asking for permission. - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
A newly refurbished gazebo on Ericksen Avenue comes replete with several signs, including a stop work order from the city’s code enforcement office. Neighbors moved the structure into the city right of way without first asking for permission.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

Neighbors rebuild a gazebo in a disputed ‘park’ on Ericksen Avenue; the city balks.

Lest their be any confusion as to how it got there, the recently revived and relocated gazebo on Ericksen Avenue comes with a sign that reads “gift.”

It’s even topped with a bow.

Unfortunately for those who put it there, the city is asking for the receipt.

“We didn’t realize we moved it into the city right of way,” said Debbi Lester, one of several neighborhood residents who donated money and labor toward the project.

The group, formally known as the “Ericksen Neighbors,” spent about $200 and two days rebuilding the gazebo as part of their ongoing effort to improve the wayside, a controversial piece of land between Ericksen Avenue and Hildebrand Lane.

The city has for more than a decade debated whether to pave over the strip to connect the the two streets.

The idea has the support of some business owners, who are tired of traffic cutting through the nearby parking lot. Others, like the Ericksen Neighbors, say they use the strip for recreation and don’t want to see the neighborhood used as a thoroughfare.

Members of the latter group have for the past year been holding weekly events, at which members pick up litter, trim bushes and generally clean up the area. They will host their second annual picnic there at 3 p.m. Oct. 8.

Recently, as part of their maintenance activities, the group turned their attention to a gazebo that once sat tucked away near the edge of the property.

The structure was built in the early 1990s by the former owners of the nearby Island Country Inn, as part of a deal with the city. It technically sat on the inn’s land, but was eventually handed over to the city.

Neighbors said the gazebo’s secluded location in the trees made it the site of criminal activity. It was knocked down by vandals last year and remained in disrepair until the Ericksen Neighbors decided to fix it up.

To avoid a repeat of earlier problems, they chose to move it into the lawn across the sidewalk. The idea was to make it more visible and to turn it into an icon.

“We though it would be a place where people could meet or have lunch,” Lester said.

Twelve people spent parts of last Sunday and Monday working on the structure. They used new cedar posts to support its roof, which they power-washed clean. They dug 3-foot holes and poured nearly 1,500 lbs. of concrete to secure the gazebo posts.

Their work wasn’t quite finished by Monday evening, but Lester and the group thought they were well on their way to bettering the area.

Problem is, they hadn’t ask anyone for permission.

“That’s where we dropped the ball,” Lester said.

As it turns out, two of the gazebo’s four legs are now in the city right of way. The city’s code enforcement office this week issued a stop work order on the project, pending inspection and permitting.

The issue, said City Engineer Bob Earl, is one of safety.

“There is a process in place for permitting new construction to ensure that it does not pose a risk to public safety, and for building in the right of way,” he said. “We need to take a step back and go through the process.”

The city code says that any construction “which affects or may affect any city owned utilities, streets or property shall be performed by any person or corporation without first having obtained from the city a permit to perform such construction work,” so the city must sign off on the project before work could resume.

The neighborhood group doesn’t yet know what it would do with the structure if the city denies the permit. Lester said there isn’t enough room to move it out of the right of way, and neighbors would rather not put it back in its original location. She doesn’t have any doubts about the structural integrity of the gazebo, but she realizes it’s not up to her.

“I totally understand where the city is coming from,” she said. “They take on the liability for this, so they need to make sure it was done professionally.”

Her issue is with the idea that the right of way runs through the lawn at all.

Several groups have been vocal on both sides of the Ericksen-Hildebrand debate.

The Ericksen Neighbors are a recently formed opposition group, and a letter presenting the gazebo to the city was signed by Lester, Ian Bentryn, Roger van Gelder, Dave Ullin, and recent City Council candidate CarolAnn Barrows.

The Bainbridge Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, has repeatedly lobbied for a road opening, touting the results of a community survey in which a majority of islanders said they would prefer the connection.

No firm plans to punch through the strip are in place, but the city recently completed a traffic study in the neighborhood, and has allocated $310,000 in the yet-to-be-approved Capital Facilities Plan for work on the connection.

The CFP, which identifies the city’s capital needs over a six-year period, may not get council approval until the end of the year, following criticism of the plan earlier this month.

“I don’t see any definitive decision on Ericksen-Hildebrand coming before the end of the year,” said City Councilor Debbie Vancil, who chairs the city’s Public Works and Transportation Committee.

As for the Ericksen Neighbors’ future projects, Lester said the group will “go to the city first” from now on.

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