Bainbridge City Councilwoman Rasham Nassar and her husband Trenton Riely-Gibbons have developed their property on Sands Avenue without permits, according to public records released this week by the city.
The illegal activity was reported to the city early last year, when someone filed a complaint on the city’s website for a “an un-permitted structure in a wetland buffer being used as living space.”
Records show the city’s code enforcement officer has been to the couple’s property multiple times in the last year to investigate.
According to a timeline on the Nassar case that was sent by the city’s planning staff to City Manager Morgan Smith on Jan. 4, code violations on the property were investigated from February through May of last year, and the city determined in late June that possible code violations had occurred. Nassar and Gibbons were given a “Warning of Violation & Order to Correct,” and were told to stop all work in environmentally sensitive “critical areas” on their property. They were also ordered to apply for and obtain permits for the work that had been done on their land, and to also submit a restoration plan to the city.
The January memo to Smith also notes that the city’s code enforcement officer spoke with Nassar about the violations in early July, and 10 days later, with her husband and father-in-law.
Nassar and Riely-Gibbons, however, did not apply for permits until the city threatened additional legal action, public records show.
In a letter sent to the couple Aug. 30, the city asked Nassar and Riely-Gibbons to apply for permits or remove the un-permitted structure that had been built on their property “or the city will move forward with enforcement action by referring the matter to the Kitsap County Prosecutor.”
The couple finally applied for an “after-the-fact” building permit on Sept. 5, records show. The pair told officials that the un-permitted work on the property was mainly repairs that were done to the walls and roof of a well house.
Scrutiny of the couple’s development of the property extended into December, records show.
The city’s development engineer has asked Nassar and Riely-Gibbons to conduct a “site assessment review” to determine how much of the property has been developed with hard surfaces.
City officials plan to visit the property again this month to investigate the building on the property and the scope of development that has occurred. Officials have tried to conduct site visits in the past, with limited success, according to records released by the city.
Officials indicate that more investigation of the property will need to happen after the application has been received for a site assessment review. The city’s planning department will then determine if additional work has been done on the property without permits, “including potential disturbance to the wetland, tree and vegetation clearing and building construction and to determine if additional permits are necessary,” according to the Jan. 3 memo to the city manager from the city’s planning manager.
In an email to the Review, Nassar said her family was continuing to work to get permits for the work done on their property, which sits north of New Brooklyn Road NE and west of Sands Avenue.
“Since last year, my family and I have been working with the city to obtain an after-the-fact permit for improvements to our well pumphouse/shed building completed in 2015 subsequent to storm damage caused by a falling tree,” Nassar said.
“We are happy to continue working with the city to resolve any outstanding concerns,” she added.
Nassar was not immediately available Tuesday to provide additional comment.
The Bainbridge city council is expected to discuss the complaint against Nassar at its meeting Tuesday. The agenda notes “the council will have a discussion about the complaint, including that this is an administrative matter that is being addressed by staff, as is the case with all other code enforcement actions.”
Nassar is a first-term councilwoman who was elected to a District 5 seat on the council in November 2017.
During the election, she touted her background as an organic farmer, and protecting Bainbridge’s environment was a key part of her campaign platform. Nassar vowed to “to lead by example” and promised to work to preserve the island’s “unique character and environmental integrity.”
In late December, Nassar asked the city’s Ethics Board if her involvement in council discussions on land-use regulations was a “conflict of interest for members of council who own private property containing grandfathered non-conforming uses, and/or members of council with active applications for new and/or after-the-fact building permits.”
In that Dec. 23 letter to the Ethics Board, she claimed the development on her property was “grandfathered” and she said the farmland, the primary residence, primary and secondary driveways, yard, and storage shed/well pumphouse on the property were in “historically disturbed areas.”
Work that had been done on the property was in the buffer to a critical area, she said, and was done after a tree fell in the winter of 2014 and was finished in January 2015.
However, aerial photos of the property from Google that were submitted to the city conflict with those claims.
A series of photos starting in July 2012 show an addition of a greenhouse to the property between July 2014 and April 2015. A June 2016 photo shows another large greenhouse built on the property, with a new structure added nearby, as well as fencing placed in what appeared to be a wetland area.
A May 2017 aerial view of the property shows more clearing in the wetland for a parking area, the removal of trees from the wetland. A May 2018 photo shows what is described as an arbor added to the front of the house.
The photos were submitted by a Bainbridge property owner who said the city’s new regulations on development of lands with sensitive areas “have literally cost me tens of thousands of dollars to comply.”
The whistleblower recalled that Nassar had voted for the more restrictive rules, but said the councilwoman was “wildly out of compliance” for the development on her own property.
“I have a very strong moral code and I think that elected officials should be required to live by the same laws that they pass,” the resident said in a December email to the mayor and city council.
He noted that satellite image showed a number of large structures that had been built by the current owners, but added “the city permit site shows no permits have been applied for other than the current [after-the-fact permit] for the well house.”
He also said the greenhouse was 3,000 square feet in size, and may have been built in the buffer area for the wetland, and also pointed out other un-permitted and new structures on the land, as well as tree clearing and other disturbances to the wetland on the property.