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Holmes Harbor Sewer District follows through on lawsuit threat

Making good on an earlier threat of litigation, the Holmes Harbor Sewer District struck the legal war post this past week to settle an ongoing parking rights quarrel at a Freeland golf course.

District attorneys filed to “quiet title” in Island County Superior Court on Wednesday, July 30, against Holmes Harbor Golf, LLC, the entity that owns the clubhouse and parking lot. Commissioner Stan Walker, the board’s current president, declined to comment on the action, saying he would not talk about the civil case while it remains in litigation.

Kevin Hanchett, managing member of the LLC, was willing to talk about the lawsuit, however, and said he was relieved the issue was going to court.

“I’m glad they’ve filed it because now we can finally deal with this,” said Hanchett, adding that a judge will settle the argument once and for all.

Hanchett is an Edmonds-based attorney specializing in commercial litigation and receivership. His primary affiliation is with Resource Transition Consultants, LLC, which provides receivership, analysis and acquisition and disposition services “to navigate through increasingly complex distressed real estate markets,” according to the group’s website.

Hanchett, with his business partner Mike Hooper, purchased the fairways, clubhouse and adjacent undeveloped land of the golf course in 2011. The fairways were later sold to the sewer district, which needs them regularly maintained for sewer discharge purposes, and space in the clubhouse was leased to first the district and then later to Craig Moore, an outside contractor operating the golf course as a private business.

Relations have since soured between the parties, and Hanchett decided not to renew the lease when it expired in July. An argument has since ensued over parking for course customers with the district maintaining it has an easement from a 1992 site plan, and Hanchett claiming it was made void with his 2011 purchase.

Represented by Bellevue-based Inslee Best, the district’s civil suit seeks declaratory relief concerning the disputed parking easement, and specific performance and preliminary and permanent injunction, which would prohibit the LLC and its successors from ever again interfering with district access to the parking area.

The district’s suit also asks for damages, including “the fair value of lost use and all increased costs of maintenance and operations that may be incurred as a result of [the LLC’s] interference with the district’s easements.”

The extent of the request for damages is somewhat unclear, but the sewer district is in the process of getting a county clearing and grading permit for an area next to the parking lot, and a permit to have a temporary trailer located onsite for Moore to operate the golf course.

Walker said last month that the board is considering the construction of a new clubhouse, but that those plans are on hold and contingent on parking. Without rights to Hanchett’s lot, there would be no reason to have a new building, he said.

Although the district’s future development plans are not specifically part of the parking suit, Hanchett has worked to thwart district efforts. In a July interview with the South Whidbey Record, he said he alerted the county when a pond was drained and grading performed without a permit. Work was stopped by the instruction of county officials.

Hanchett has since hired private planner Larry Kwarsick, of Sound Planning Services, to evaluate the district’s project and permit application. Kwarsick sent a letter to county planning and public works officials on Aug. 4 that claimed the existing grading permit was “deficient in that the [notice of application] only identifies one part of a project action that in actuality involves a series of complex permits and approvals... .”

“The county’s processing of a grading permit should stop and the entire project proposal presented to the county for review,” Kwarsick wrote.

Kwarsick was a public servant for about 40 years, having worked in planning and public works departments at the county, and as a planner for Langley and Coupeville. He was most recently the mayor of Langley, but was forced to resign after being found guilty in court of forging city planning documents for a family member. He spent two weeks in jail for the crime.

Walker said in July that the hubbub over the non-permitted work was not so nefarious, that the district thought it was acting appropriately at the time. Work stopped when they were notified a permit was needed. The pond, he said, was long planned for draining as a needed safety project, but could also become the future footprint of a new clubhouse.

Hanchett rebuked the district this week for irresponsible project plans, saying commissioners are spending tax dollars on a plan that may never bear fruit should a judge side with him on the parking dispute.

“They haven’t addressed the concern, ‘What if they’re wrong?’ ” said Hanchett, referring to a recent letter to the editor in The Record.

Hanchett has not yet retained his own counsel, but he said that he would be selecting a firm soon. He expects the case will take about 90 days to resolve. In the meantime, he said he is allowing the golf course to use the parking lot so as not to escalate the ongoing conflict.

 

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