TV legend Mr. Rogers is famous for saying, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” But this situation on Bainbridge Island is more like, “You won’t be my neighbor.”
Earlier this year, Tyler Hannon bought 3.7 acres from his dad, Walt, who originally purchased it in 1990 with hopes of building a home there. But “life got in the way,” and that never happened, Hannon said. So he and his wife Alexandra and two children want to “take over and fullfill their dream.” The property is in the Northeast part of BI, in the vicinity of Wilkes Elementary School. However, his neighbors want to buy the access road from the Kitsap County he was planning to use and have him build a different driveway.
The issue went to the BI City Council Tuesday. It voted 6-1 to buy the strip of land from the county for $23,352 because the public would benefit from the purchase for environmental reasons. The 1,300-foot long and 30-foot wide road was built in 1970.
Bob Scales, one of the neighbors, spoke during public comments. He said they already had made an offer on the access road, which the county accepted. He said he hoped the city would back down because of the cost, not only to buy it but to improve it to city standards.
Emails sent to the Review since the meeting show the City Council did not hear the “other side of the story” since they were not notified that this issue was going to be discussed.
Tuesday, Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said the council should not get involved in neighborhood disputes. “What precedent are we setting?” she asked, adding the only reason the others decided for it is because, “It wasn’t fair.” Later she added, “Fairness shouldn’t be relevant at all. Just because it’s a better story doesn’t make it right.”
Mayor Rasham Nassar disagreed. She said the public would benefit environmentally because the only other option for Hannon would be to build a much-longer driveway all across his property that would require likely cutting down many, many trees. She also said the city would be correcting a previous administrative error – such “tax-title strips” should have transferred from the county to the city when BI incorporated.
“Public benefit is in the eye of who interprets it,” Councilmember Joe Deets said, agreeing with the environmental aspect.
Deputy Mayor Michael Pollock said along with less of an environmental impact there also could be a public benefit of connectivity regarding nonmotorized transportation.
Councilmember Christy Carr said the purchase would support at least two goals in the Comprehensive Plan: minimizing development footprint and stewardship of the land.
Deets and Councilmember Leslie Schneider said they wished the neighbors would just work it out. Schneider even suggested city manager Blair King to talk with all the parties to see if the property owners would come to an agreement now that they know the “lay of the land.” She suggested all of the neighbors, including Hammon, form a Local Improvement District so they could all chip in to make improvements.
Pollock liked that idea, but also suggested at some point selling the what is basically a dirt road back to the neighbors. “It would incentivize them to work it out more if we have the property and offer to sell it.”
Carr also made a motion that passed asking the city manager to develop a general policy for similar situations. Nassar said that policy would help the council avoid issues in the future, leading to a “more amicable solution.”
In emails to the Review Wednesday, neighbor Karen Matsumoto said the city is buying the land to benefit one property owner. She and seven others have had a road maintenance agreement with the county and have taken care of it at their expense for years.
Emails say Hannon’s alternate route provides better access to his property. They say it is better developed, with a turnaround for emergency vehicles.
They say their lane is narrow and fragile and intersects with Dripping Water Creek, a small fish-bearing stream with a very old concrete culvert. It cannot support heavy traffic and construction equipment, the emails say.
Matsumoto says that 440 feet of road would have to be built to reach the new landowner’s property. It would be inches away from property protected under a conservation easement held by the BI Land Trust. And it would run next to several very old, large heritage cedar and maple trees that would be destroyed if the lane was extended.
Matsumoto’s email alleges the city has been working with Hannon for months to make sure he can use the lane. “We believe this has to do with the landowner’s family connections with local government officials.”
During public comments, Hannon said he and his wife grew up on BI and wanted to move back to raise their children.
His attorney, Daniel Mallove, followed up saying it was “nefarious” for the neighbors to try to lock out Hannon from his land. He said they were not only trying to bully their new neighbor, but the city as well, threatening a lawsuit.
In an interview Wednesday, Hannon said he doesn’t know what his neighbors have against him. They say it’s just because they don’t want any more people using the road. “My dad made it affordable for my wife and I to buy a piece of the rock,” he said of the last lot in the area that can be developed. “It was the only way we could afford a home on the island.”
He also said he doesn’t know why the neighbors just wouldn’t let him join them in buying the road. “I’m willing to pay my fair share,” he said. “They’d have another pocketbook to pay for maintenance and repair.” Hannon said if he has to build his access on the other side of the property it would delay his home project a year or two as they would have had to save another $30,000 to $40,000. He also said it is not true that he was in cahoots with the city on any deal.
He said the area is a “peaceful setting. It’s real private out there. They can’t even see my house. How is this really disturbing you?” Hannon said he has felt “powerless,” and his dad felt “personally attacked.” He said, “All I want to do is have harmony and be a good neighbor.” But he’s not optimistic. He said from the start the neighbors have been pooling their resources to try to intimidate him. “The one thing that’s going to kill my dream here is a legal battle,” he said. “I don’t really feel like this is the end.”
Since the meeting, Scales offered a new proposal. He suggested a meeting of the parties without lawyers. He said he had some cordial conversations with Hannon early on, but once an attorney got involved communication ceased.
He suggests he buy the road and grant easements to seven landlocked property owners, who agree to improve and maintain the existing 880-foot road. However, Hannon would use Ellingsen Road for access to his building site.
Other aspects of his plan would expand land trust easements, add half a mile of nonmotorized trails linking Madison Avenue with Ellingsen, connect a mile of existing trails at Ellingsen, and preserve 24 large red cedar, Douglas fir, Big maple and alder trees. There would be no increase in traffic to a substandard road, and the city would not have to buy or maintain it.
In his proposal, which was sent to the city, along with the Review Thursday, Scales offers photos showing the quality of the roads in question. Ellingsen has gravel and pavement, is 4- to 10-feet wider, has some shoulder, allows to cars to pass by each other and meets fire code, while the other does not.