City prevails in long battle over road end

The gate across Fletcher Landing must come down, the city says.

After years of litigation, it appears the gate will finally fall.

The state Supreme Court this week declined to review an earlier court ruling opening Fletcher Landing to public access, effectively squashing an effort by neighbors to restrict access to a 40-feet-wide road end and tidelands they say is private.

It was the third court decision in favor of public access. The state Court of Appeals last year upheld an earlier ruling allowing the city to open the beach to the public. But neighbors decided to leave the gate up until they’d exhausted their legal options.

After this week’s ruling, the gate looks to be doomed.

“It’s done,” said Bainbridge resident and Seattle attorney Blair Burroughs, who has represented the city in the case since 1999. “Everyone at the city is very happy about the decision.”

The State Court of Appeals is expected to issue a mandate within the next few days. After that, Burroughs said, Fletcher Landing neighbors will have 120 days to take down the gate.

Burroughs said neighbors have no further recourse short of appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court, a move he said was highly unlikely.

Even if such a maneuver were attempted, he said, the gate would come down in the meantime.

Neighbors with deeded interest in the property put up a gate to keep people out in the mid-1990s, a move that sparked anger among those who felt the beach belonged to the public.

Fletcher Landing resident Michael Huddleston said Friday he was disappointed by the decision, but expected things to turn out as they did.

“Unfortunately, this is more of a political issue than anything else,” he said. “I can see where it would be an unpopular decision for a judge to rule in our favor, but from what I understand, this land has always been private. It just goes to show that you can’t fight city hall.”

Huddleston said he, like many of his neighbors, gave up following the case long ago because he knew they wouldn’t have the money to compete with the city.

He applauded those who fought on and still wonders why the city didn’t choose to resolve the matter differently.

“This is such a waste of money for both sides,” he said. “It would have been easier if the city would have been willing to come down and try to settle things out of court. But for the city to come in and force you to give up a piece of land you’ve been paying taxes on for years, that’s a bullying situation.”

Other neighbors who were party to the suit did not immediately return calls for comment.

Because the land at one time was the site of a public ferry landing, Kitsap Superior Court Judge Leonard Costellos ruled in 2002 in favor of public access, which led to the neighbors’ failed appeal last year.

Assuming no further appeals are coming, Burroughs said the city must now decide what to do with land that has been out of the public domain for a decade.

In particular, Burroughs said a failing bulkhead would require repair at some point.

Tom Chester, a community activist who last year painted signs reading “Free Fletcher Landing” and started a website to raise public interest, expressed satisfaction with the ruling.

“This has been going on for years,” Chester said. “Never once has a court ruling gone in favor of these people.”

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