Neighborhood dispute erupts over clearing
April 30, 2009 · Updated 2:23 PM
By Dennis Box
A neighborhood dispute over land clearing and the subdividing of a lot boiled over at the Dec. 14 City Council meeting and appears to be headed to the lawyers.
Jessica Larios, who owns 1.46 acres at 7720 190th Ave. E., applied for a short plat and a permit to begin clearing trees in October.
There is one home on the property now. Larios intends to build two more.
The clearing permit was allowed under the conditions that Larios would stay away from a stream on the property, would not fall trees on the neighbors' land and would install a silt fence.
Once the clearing began the problems started.
Police were called, although no citation was written because Larios had a clearing permit.
Neighbors Lynn and Tina Storrs, David Luce and others became very upset and concerned as the trees fell.
"The city allowed her (Larios) to clear a buffer that was a privacy area," Lynn Storrs said. "A land clearing permit says anyone living within 600' feet must be notified. The city approved the land clearing and it is the city's fault."
However, Larios noted the city inspected her property and issued the permits according to the local and state codes.
"I was cutting trees with a permit from the city," Larios said. "I was in a hurry to get the project started. Elizabeth Chamberlain (associate planner for the Bonney Lake Planning Department) told me I could have a clearing permit in conjunction with a short-plat application."
A group of neighbors including the Storrs, Luce, Denise Robinson, Art Palecek and Joel Midkiff banned together to halt the project. They have based their arguments on a line of trees they stated acted as a privacy buffer. They are concerned about water erosion, flooding in adjacent properties and wetland clearing restrictions.
Storrs and others went to the city and voiced their complaints. A stop work order was issued Oct. 26, but was lifted six days later.
Another stop work order was issued Dec. 1.
"They didn't issue a stop work order because of violations, but to look into what the neighbors were complaining about," Larios said. "I'm just a regular person like they are. This has been very frustrating. The city said at first I didn't have to go through a SEPA ( state environmental policy act) review, but on Dec. 8 they sent me a letter saying I had to go through a SEPA review. The reason they did it was because of the opposition of my neighbors."
The neighborhood group contends her property is a type II wetland with a 50 foot buffer adjacent to their property that should not have been cleared.
The group voiced their arguments during the public comment part of the council meeting.
Larios also attended and stated her position.
Storrs stated he hired a wetland specialist, John Kemp, to asses the property. According to Storrs, the specialist stated the city should have advised Larios her property may have wetland issues.
"There were eight large trees and 50 years of shrubs and growth that helped regulated flood problems," Storrs said. "Now all that water is coming onto my land. We are hoping the city will mitigate and replace the buffer. If we can't mitigate, we will have to go to court."
Larios stated she had to hire her own wetland firm, Habitat Technologies, for the environmental review and was told her property was not a wetland.
"A buffer was set to the north," Larios said. "It was never set on my property. It's just drainage, its not a natural drainage. It is a dug ditch. That's what I was told by the previous owner."
When the city orders an environmental study, the property owner must pay for the review.
Larios said the environmental review will be submitted to the city this week.
Storrs submitted a seven page affidavit outlining the neighborhood group's positions.
The city will not lift the stop work order until a SEPA review is complete, there is a public comment period and the wetland report is reviewed. An appeal of the city's environmental determination may go before a the Bonney Lake hearing examiner.
Dennis Box can be reached at email@example.com.