UPDATE | Bainbridge group calls for Councilwoman Nassar to resign in light of illegal development case

A group of Bainbridge Island citizens who have been investigating the illegal development of City Councilwoman Rasham Nassar’s property on Sands Avenue are calling for the city council to take action on the case and have also called for Nassar to resign.

Controversy over un-permitted development on Nassar’s land publicly erupted this week, and the city council was expected to get an update on the case Tuesday.

City of Bainbridge Island officials said it discovered two structures in a wetlands area had been raised without permits on land owned by Nassar, a first-term councilwoman elected in November 2017 on an environmentalist platform.

City officials issued a “warning of violation & order to correct” to the Bainbridge councilwoman and her husband on June 6 after someone complained to the city that an occupied structure had been built on Nassar’s 6-acre property along Sands Avenue.

Development in and near wetlands and other environmentally sensitive lands is strictly regulated, and city officials said they found electricity and a wood stove had been installed in the un-permitted structure, according to city records obtained by the Review.

Nassar’s husband, Trenton Riely-Gibbons, met with city officials to discuss the illegal development on July 19, and was told that he needed to apply for a building permit within 30 days.

Nassar and Riely-Gibbons didn’t, however, and the city warned the couple of possible legal action in late August.

According to an Aug. 30 letter from the city’s code enforcement officer to the couple, Nassar and Riely-Gibbons were told the matter would be sent to the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office if they didn’t comply.

“The city has given you a reasonable amount of time to resolve this matter,” Code Compliance Officer Greg Vause said in the Aug. 30 letter.

“If you haven’t applied for the proper permits or removed the un-permitted structure, the city will move forward with enforcement action by referring this matter to the Kistap County Prosecutor’s Office.”

Nassar told the Review this week that her family was cooperating with the city.

“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 said in an email to the Review.

Though the first complaint about the unauthorized development on Nassar’s property was submitted to the city in January 2018, Nassar and her husband’s violations of city development regulations boiled over in late December.

Just before Christmas, a group that calls itself Bainbridge Island Citizens for Ethical Government sent a letter to city manager, city attorney and other officials that recounted how the city ramped up its regulations on land development for island properties, and the new rules declared that 90 percent of the island was now a “critical area” that needed greater restrictions in order to protect Bainbridge’s groundwater resources.

The group said Nassar had campaigned as an environmentalist, but had repeatedly violated “the strict legislation she promoted as good for the rest of us.”

“Councilmember Rasham Nassar owns a small farm which is buffered on one side by a large forested wetland. The majority of her property has restricted use due to the wetland buffer,” the letter to the city said. “Between 2015 and 2018 she put up several buildings on her property and added to or remodeled others.

“Most of this activity occurred in the wetland buffer. There was also other significant work, fences, driveway improvements and tree removal. None of this activity was permitted. And, neither the well or septic field were licensed by Kitsap County Public Health.

“And when the city came calling about the lack of permitting, and the improper/illegal use of the wetland and wetland buffer, the city’s demands for action were ignored. Then, ignored again — right up until Rasham Nassar received written notification from the city about being taken for court action.”

The group also complained in their letter that no “real action” had been taken against Nassar, and they asked the council to hold her accountable.

“In the months since the city contacted her, council member Rasham has repeatedly referred to her own situation during council meetings. She talks about small old cabins in wetland areas that would be much better off if the city allowed them to be developed in larger and more environmentally friendly homes. She never says that she is talking about her own home. Council member Rasham needs to resign and end her hypocrisy.”

Bainbridge Island Citizens for Ethical Government also said the new critical areas regulations, which passed on a 4-3 vote, be put up for a new vote.

“At the very least, we believe [Nassar] should be automatically recused from any land-use vote until we can have this situation properly addressed (not overlooked, and not swept under the rug) – and — any land use that she has been involved with to-date should be nullified and brought back up for review.”

The letter to city officials was not signed by the authors. But Larry Hutchison, a member of Bainbridge Island Citizens for Ethical Government, said islanders were worried about retribution from the council if they were identified.

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