Laurelhurst Community Club                                                     

Serving 2800 Households in Seattle’s Laurelhurst Neighborhood

 

 

 

 

October 22, 2003

 

 

 

Diane Sugimura, Director

Department of Design, Construction and Land Use

Key Tower, Suite 1900

700 Fifth Avenue 

Seattle, Washington  98104

 

Grace Crunican, Director

Seattle Department of Transportation

Key Tower, Suite 3857

700 Fifth Avenue 

Seattle, Washington  98104 

 

Re:  Waterway No. 1 in Laurelhurst

 

Dear Ms. Sugimura and Ms. Crunican:

 

We are writing to you about issues related to Waterway No. 1 in Laurelhurst and the adjacent property located at 3335 43rd Avenue NE.  The property was recently sold, upgraded and sold again.  The upgrade included significant encroachments onto Waterway No. 1.  It appears that approximately 20-30 feet of the upland area was appropriated for the full length of the waterway.  A gravel parking area was installed and a hedge planted with additional landscaping to incorporate the appropriated property within the residential yard of the adjacent property owner.  The hedge also raises potential view blockage issues.  Further, a dock was replaced and relocated and now encroaches into the public waterway.  We ask that you review issues relating to permitting, compliance with local and state policies governing public access to publicly-owned properties and clarify responsibilities regarding maintenance of the public property.

 

To begin with, we believe that it is important for the City to notify property owners that if encroachments are installed on public property, there is a risk that the property owner will be required to remove the encroachments at their own expense should the City decide to designate the property for another use.  We recognize that property owners adjacent to public lands often install and maintain landscaping and fixtures on public property.  These efforts often benefit the City and the community in improving public land that has been neglected and enhancing the appearance of the adjacent property, despite the fact that adjacent property owners pay no increased property taxes for private use of the public land.  Issues surface, however, because it is public property. 

 

There are also fairness issues because those living adjacent to shoreline streets ends, which function identically to waterways in residential areas, pay an annual fee for encroachments when no public use of the property is planned.  Fees collected help to pay for improvements to provide public access and to remove encroachments.  No such rule currently exists for those living adjacent to state waterways to pay annual fees.

 

In the case of Waterway No. 1, the prior owners installed new landscaping and a fence extension perpendicular to the existing fence which blocks public access to the public property.  Although this fence extension has a gate, the clear impression for those walking by is that this is private property.  A gravel parking area next to the fence extension also denotes that the public is not invited onto this public property.  We recognize that there are always challenges in upgrading and improving property, but do note that the property owners on the other side of the waterway completely rebuilt their home several years ago with no encroachments, other than a laurel hedge that had been in place for decades when they acquired the property and the hedge has since been shaved back.

 

In contacting you, it is our goal to ensure unobstructed public access to the waterway and to develop a means to address the many complaints we have received from neighbors about the encroachments at Waterway No. 1.  It is unfortunate that the new owners of the property now have to deal with problems created by the prior owner, when this is the time we would like to welcome them to our community.

 

State waterways and shoreline street ends provide important amenities to neighborhoods.  They contribute to the livability and vitality of communities and provide an opportunity for neighbors to launch canoes and kayaks and basically get their feet wet.  Children play in these areas and neighbors often walk their dogs down to the water for a dip.

 

In working with the City on implementation of the shoreline street ends program, our goal was to work with affected neighbors to develop consensus, recognizing the privacy of adjacent homeowners and the public access purposes of the program.  We are hopeful that this goal can be accomplished in sorting out issues related to Waterway No. 1.

 

In the case of Waterway No. 1, over the years, well-meaning neighbors have removed invasive overgrown blackberry and other bushes and laurel trees, have gotten together to remove debris that had been left in the lot and have periodically mowed the tall grass.  The mowing has been at considerable expense to neighbors in the vicinity.  One neighbor has spent hours and hours mowing the uneven lot to save the approximate $200 mowing fee that has been paid on many occasions.  Most recently, a neighbor paid to have her landscaper trim the hedge installed by the prior owners of the property located at 3335 43rd Avenue NE to the consternation of the friends of the current property owner who are occupying the property.  This conflict has arisen because there are no clear rules as to who can do what to public property.  Our neighbors have basically been told that they and/or adjacent property owners can do whatever they would like to the property in terms of maintenance, with the exception that heavy equipment cannot be used on the lot due to shoreline issues, but clarification is nonetheless needed.

 

Regarding the dock:  The old dock was replaced (Project No. 9807664) because it was in violation of shoreline codes.  The fixed pile pier was ultimately replaced with a floating dock.  During this process, however, problems surfaced because a floating dock was not constructed as required and the structure built was inconsistent with the approved plans.  A violation notice was issued and eventually the current dock was constructed.  At that time, representatives from the Laurelhurst Community Club (LCC) met with a representative from the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to review plans for a new dock location.  A September 10, 2002 SDOT permit states that the relocation was approved by LCC and notes that landscaping and other encroachments extend 20 feet onto the public property.  LCC did not approve the dock relocation as noted on the SDOT permit, nor was there any discussion about the 20-foot encroachment.

 

At our meeting with the SDOT representative, LCC representatives were told that the dock would encroach into the waterway by 12 feet.  Due to the size limitations of the property located at 3335 43rd Avenue NE and additional expenses of relocating the dock a second time, we thought this would be a reasonable compromise.  It appears, however, that the encroachment is much greater than 12 feet.  In addition, we were not told that boats would be parked on the right side of the dock—extending the encroachment by approximately 15 additional feet into the waterway—and that there would be four big poles located further to the right of the dock in the waterway.  Boats parked in this location further block the waterway. 

 

Because this is a public waterway, we have received inquiries from neighbors as to whether they may also tie their boats off the pilings in the waterway.  One of the problems with boats parked in the public waterway is that they interfere with non-motorized boat launching from the shore.  Past owners of the property at no time parked boats in the public waterway—they parked their boats on the area to the left of the dock away from the waterway.  On one occasion in the past, a boat was moored on a makeshift log dock in the waterway and prompt removal of the log dock and boat were required.

 

We were told that the new dock and pilings were built as shown on the approved plan and that the dock was on the edge of and parallel to the waterway.  The SDOT person with whom we have worked indicated that the view from the street is straight out, while the waterway cuts across at an angle, thus making the dock look as if it encroaches into the waterway.  The aerial photo we have since reviewed, however, documents the encroachment.  In March 2003, we asked what plans would be taken to correct the encroachment and we were told none.  Because of the public nature of this area, we ask for further review.

 

We would appreciate it if you could review the issues we’ve outlined above.  At minimum, boats should not be allowed to park on the waterway side of the dock, thus further obstructing the waterway, and the four pilings should be removed or relocated.  Laurelhurst is a wonderful neighborhood and we do not want complaints about the encroachments on the public land area to continue, particularly because at some time in the future neighbors have discussed the possibility of converting the lot into a drought tolerant, low maintenance herbaceous garden and upgrading the existing asphalt basketball court to remove the cracks.  Your assistance in clarifying issues relating to maintenance of the lot and public access would also be appreciated. 

 

Thank you for your assistance in addressing these issues. 

 

Sincerely,

Jeannie Hale, President

3425 West Laurelhurst Drive NE

Seattle, Washington  98105

206-525-5135 / fax 206-525-9631

jeannieh@serv.net

 

cc:  John Zavis, SDOT; Christine Bruno, SDOT; Noel Schoneman; SDOT; Robert Laird, DCLU; Cliff Portman, DCLU; Stephanie Haines, DCLU; Rex Thompson, Department of Natural Resources; Peter Eglick, Helsell Fetterman; Liz Ogden, LCC; Linda and Robert Lewis, property owners; Susan and Bud Moore, neighbors living at 3335 43rd Avenue NE