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Neighborhood dispute hits rock bottom

BAYVIEW — Some neighbors have nicknamed it “the Great Wall of China,” while others have called it an insult to the neighborhood.

The builder of two stacked, concrete block walls stretching across two vacant lots on Evening Glory Court claims it is a landscaping project.

“I call it giving our community the concrete finger,” neighbor Eric Rembold said.

A neighborhood dispute has

broken out over landscaping materials, rocks, concrete blocks and machinery that is being stored on private property in a residential Bayview neighborhood.

And the county’s code enforcers are left to sort it out.

After the Blue Star Rockery shut down operations near Bayview Center in October, owner Wayne Morrison began bringing landscaping materials to two properties he owns on Evening Glory Court.

Morrison said he is using the materials to landscape and enhance the value of his properties.

“I liquidated my Blue Star inventory and used some of it at my own project,” Morrison said.

“It just seems fair that I can use my own equipment to work on my own property,” he said.

A number of neighbors see it differently. The building materials are an eyesore to them and they began sending complaints to the county’s planning department, which is responsible for code enforcement.

Not so great walls

When county officials asked about the materials, Morrison told them that he was planning a landscaping project, said Matt Kukuk, the county code enforcement manager.

However, some neighbors claim it wasn’t until the county got involved that the concrete blocks were stacked up into walls across the properties; two rows high on one lot and three blocks high on the other.

Morrison said he simply built a retaining wall that will be used later to help level the downhill-slanted property. He also said he planted greenery to make the wall more appealing.

However, to the neighbors, random walls on vacant lots are not an acceptable look.

“Why do some neighborhoods become ghettos?” Rembold asked. “All you need is one run-down property. Then people begin to think, ‘Why should I care?’ It fractures the spirit of the community.”

“Frankly, we just want to protect ourselves,” he added.

Neighbor Debbie Dix said the neighborhood was going through a renaissance and most neighbors put a lot of effort into revitalizing the division that has a spectacular water view.

“Everybody has fixed up stuff,” Dix said. “It’s like a slap in the face,” she added.

After further investigation, the county initially sided with the neighbors. The county issued a cease-and-desist order for each parcel for unpermitted outdoor storage associated with a commercial business.

Neighbors allege in their complaints that Morrison is not only violating county code by storing materials in a residential neighborhood, but they also say he is running his rockery business from the location.

County code enforcers asked Morrison to submit a letter outlining his landscaping plans in detail — including a timeline — and required that all extra material, rocks and concrete blocks be removed from the properties.

All the county got, however, was an e-mail on Oct. 8 arguing that Morrison was not in any violation. He said he intended to bring even more material to the site and that he has incurred damages as a result of the cease-and-desist order.

The county continued to negotiate with Morrison, but on Oct. 16, Kukuk sent a letter to Morrison that said he had two days to submit a letter that outlined a plan for the landscaping project. It said all the projects should be wrapped up by November unless the county is informed in writing of a change in the timeline.

“These time frames are in line with the agreements made during our initial phone conversations and have been determined to be reasonable given the amount of work required and the history of violations on the site,” Kukuk wrote.

Kukuk wrote that if Morrison failed to submit the letter, the county would seek harsher enforcement, including an enforcement order which would establish a civil penalty and fines.

Kukuk also wrote that the planning director would consider forwarding the case to the Island County Prosecutor’s Office for civil and/or criminal action for repeated, willful and knowing violations of the county code given Morrison’s history of violations.

Code enforcer Chris Luerkens said Morrison had other run-ins with the county in 1995 and 1997.

Luerkens said the county opened violation files for at least one of the properties owned by Morrison in both years.

“I believe at least one of them was of a similar nature,” Luerkens said.

However, Morrison’s lawyers finally sent a letter Oct. 24 outlining Morrison’s plans for the project.

Luerkens said Morrison plans to install a retaining wall on one property and a privacy wall on the other property.

“On the lower lot, he intends to bring in fill material in spring,” Luerkens said. The county has to wait and see how the project unfolds until they can proceed further.

Luerkens added that the county doesn’t have aesthetic standards for fences and walls, but that they can’t be higher than six feet without a permit; retaining walls can’t be higher than four feet.

Besides the two unbuilt lots on Evening Glory Court and the Morrison residence, Morrison also has stored material on a private lot owned by Michael Gallion, according to records obtained from the Island County Planning Department. The county has informed the owner and Morrison that the storage of materials and parking by employees on the property located on Gabelein Drive violates county code.

Neighbors are concerned that Morrison is running his rockery business out of the neighborhood, and said the parcels sat empty for years.

Once the Goosefoot Community Fund and the Blue Star Rockery parted ways, the rockery had to vacate the Bayview location. Heavy machinery and rocks and fill materials started piling up on at least two parcels in their neighborhood soon after.

Affecting values

Neighbors are worried that the seemingly careless storage of the materials will hurt their property values.

Neighbor Ed Young said one couple in the neighborhood has been trying to sell their house and have dropped the asking price in recent weeks considerably. Their real estate agent told them clients were turned off by the “construction site next door,” he said.

“They are the real victims,” neighbor Nancy McCallum agreed.

The house, a pristine one-family home, sits between the two vacant lots.

“It’s like having trolls on either side of the princess,” McCallum said.

The neighbors also said the atmosphere in the neighborhood and their sanity is at stake.

“Dump trucks are going in and out of the neighborhood. This whole situation is stressful for everyone,” Young said.

Morrison agreed that the situation is stressful.

However, he claims his neighbors are the aggravators.

“The harassment has an impact on my wife’s health,” Morrison said.

He said his family has been under surveillance by the neighbors since he began work on the project.

Besides apparently violating the county code, Morrison has also broken a number of neighborhood association rules, Young said.

Morrison said he is a board member of the neighborhood association and has the support of the majority of neighbors. He also said he made himself available at a recent association meeting, but people didn’t speak up.

Some neighbors said they approached Morrison in the street trying to find out what the plan was for the material.

“He was not cooperative,” Young said.

At this point the neighbors are simply fed up.

“I understand the county’s point of view,” neighbor Glen McConnachie said. “They followed procedure. They washed their hands of it.”

The neighbors said they will continue to submit formal complaints.

“It’s ruining the atmosphere in our neighborhood,” McCallum said.

“I think the neighborhood is tired of being intimidated by him,” McConnachie added.

The neighbors said they would have been more tolerant if they knew this would be a temporary situation. But Young said Morrison’s stories about his plans with the material have not been consistent.

McCallum said when asked by different neighbors what his plans are now that the rockery is out of business, he also has told people different things.

“It’s a landscaping business, or a dump truck business, or something else, depending on who he is talking to,” McCallum added.

Morrison said he is simply taking a break and is looking for a new home for his rockery business. Meanwhile, he said he is landscaping his properties with leftover landscaping material.

Morrison said Monday that he wrapped up his projects over the past weekend and that all that’s left is to move an excavator off the property. With that the issue is resolved for him.

If the county has no objections to the finished project, the neighbors on Evening Glory Court may have to live with the concrete block walls.

“Unfortunately the Morrisons seem to have manipulated the situation enough to become technically in compliance with the county’s cease-and-desist order and the county has removed their signs,” Young said. “Of course the great walls of china are still there and the large excavator is still there.

“Is this acceptable to myself and my neighbors? No, but I don’t know that the county can do anything about it,” he added.

Luerkens said the county plans to follow-up on the progress of the project and once the work is wrapped up, Morrison must move his machinery and extra materials off the lot.

Community Events, April 2014

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