Road policy faces another stiff challenge

Ah, another road end issue. Let’s try to make sense of it.

Island architect Ron Holsman wants to buy a house on an acre and a half overlooking Hidden Cove, but won’t sign a closing contract until another matter is resolved. The property includes the Hidden Cove public road end and Holsman seeks city approval to provide “improvements” that would eliminate most vehicle access on the bottom part of the dirt road (about 150 feet). Holsman would replace the road on his property with some trees and a “serpentine path” that would lead to the existing staircase to the water.

What would the city get in exchange? Presumably, a much-needed upgrade to the drainage system at the road end and maybe a parking place or two near the dead end, both provided by Holsman. Those details have eked out while negotiations between Holsman (and his attorney) and City Planner Peter Namtvedt Best (and an attorney and other city officials) have been occurring behind closed doors since December. The city’s Road End Advisory Committee has been involved only peripherally and has not seen Holsman’s proposal.

In the public’s view, of course, Holsman’s plan would restrict access because people couldn’t drive their vehicles right down to the staircase as they do now. The city has made it a habit during the last 15 years of supporting the public’s access to the shore via designated road ends (now numbering 54), and Hidden Cove appears to be just such a situation.

But this is not a simple tit-for-tat transaction where each side gives up something (my improvements for your upgraded drainage system) and both sides go home happy. Holsman first brought his proposal to the city late last year, but it wasn’t until last Wednesday that he presented the city with the leverage he believes will entice the city to do things his way.

What is it? Likely it has to do with the foundation of the city’s road end policy since 1992: road ends that have been used for as long as 100 years as public access to the water have become a prescriptive right of way. Last Wednesday, Holsman said, “I don’t think the city ever established it as a public road – it’s always been a driveway.”

The actual platted end of Hidden Cove Road ran through property – just south of the property Holsman wants to buy – that is now owned by Mike and Diane Dwyer. But the platted road never became a real road, and the Dwyers had it vacated in 1993 through a quiet title action. The Dwyers, by the way, were involved in the movement that led to nearly 100 Hidden Cove residents signing a petition against Holsman’s proposal.

Technically, Holsman maybe be correct about the city not establishing the road end as an actual road, which he apparently sees as a possible precedent-setting fact regarding the city’s road end stance. But it’s doubtful that anyone during the last 100 years ever said, “Let’s take the driveway down to Hidden Cove today.” Whatever it’s called, it has been used as a road to the beach for a long time.

So what’ll happen? If city staff decides in Holsman’s favor, it’ll go to the City council. If it goes the other way, then it’s up to Holsman to get litigious or bail on the deal as he has suggested he would do.

There is nothing wrong with Holsman’s proposal or the city’s decision to take a hard look at it. There is no doubt that there is a nebulous side to road end access, which has led to many past challenges and will be followed by more in the future, each on a case-by-case basis. But that’s to be expected because getting it right is important. And the access is certainly worth fighting for.

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