The hedge is gone in Laurelhurst on Waterway 1, ending a long-running battle over encroachment on public land.
The hedge is gone.
A point of contention in Laurelhurst for years, a large hedge that had encroached on a public green space providing access to Lake Washington was removed by the neighboring property owner last weekend.
The property owner, Libby Armintrout, still needs to remove a sprinkler system and wires from the property, which belongs to the state Department of Natural Resources, said Derrick Toba, assistant division manager for aquatics at DNR. Toba said he intends to walk the property with Armintrout to determine final steps to resolving the encroachment on the public’s land.
“Overall, DNR is pleased with the progress,” Toba said. “Landscaping, a fence and the hedge have been removed. Hopefully, we can get this concluded pretty quickly. Those are state aquatic lands.”
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The saga of the land — called Waterway 1 — is hardly unique. Whether parks, shoreline street ends or waterways, agencies are forever plagued by the need to defend public commons from hot tubs, fences, decks, landscaping, basketball courts, just about anything.
The DNR is charged with maintaining dozens of public-access points to Lake Washington and Lake Union. Dealing with encroachments is a big part of the job, either by removing the items or writing a lease with the encroacher to legalize the use.
Encroachments have led to battles all over the city, from half a house sitting on Camp Long in West Seattle to a dahlia-selling business on the Burke-Gilman Trail. Armintrout, the property owner who took out the hedge in Laurelhurst, said Friday she still needs to work through an unresolved issue with the city of Seattle as to several thousand dollars in back payments of the annual fee charged for the hedge, which was on the property when she and Doug Armintrout bought it in 1994 from her brother, Bill Gates.
“I am going to address that, and then it will be all resolved,” Libby Armintrout said, adding that it was a relief to end the conflict with neighbors over the hedge. “We were encroaching on that property, and the neighbors really wanted to have that land back, and now they do. Having the neighbors not happy with you is not pleasant. The toxicity is gone. It didn’t feel good to pull out of the driveway and know people were upset.”
Asked why it took so long, she replied with the familiar Seattle refrain of “process, process, process.”
Intended as a place to launch a kayak or enjoy the view, the appeal of Waterway 1, a grassy swale leading down to the lake — was diminished by the towering hedge that gobbled up about 2,400 square feet of the quarter-acre lot. Neighbors on the south side had also encroached on the property with a dock. After more than a year of negotiations, the DNR entered into a lease with those property owners, legalizing the dock built on state tidelands. But the hedge had stubbornly remained.
Armintrout said she now looks forward to working with her neighbors on a landscaping plan for the area where the hedge had been. “That will be just wonderful,” she said.
And how, rejoined Michal Rechner, assistant division manager for policy and program development at DNR, who said he was glad to see the property headed in the right direction. “This is a great step. We had kind of hoped we would get that done a bit quicker. The problem is when you get things like the hedge, people tend to say, ‘Oh, you are going to worry about that?’
“But if you let that slide, what’s the next thing? Or if you let it go for them, you should let it go for me. It’s really important to hold the line, especially in places like Laurelhurst, where there aren’t many places of access for the general public.”
Waterways were put in place, in the case of Laurelhurst, more than a century ago, to be highways to deeper water for the public, and downtown, so the shoreline would not be so developed the public would have no access to the water. The property at 43rd Avenue Northeast and Northeast 35th Street has a venerable history. The community of Laurelhurst was platted in a fan shape around the waterway in 1906.
In the case of the Laurelhurst hedge, “I didn’t see much that was going on by way of environmental damage,” Rechner said. “It was a hedge. But what it ended up being was people wanted to maintain access to the water, and there was something there that wasn’t supposed to be.”
Neighbors said they are glad to have more of the area back in public use.
“It is so much more waterfront,” said Kate Lloyd, who has lived near the waterway for 26 years. “And it’s so much easier for people with kayaks and families picnicking; We don’t consider the waterway to be a private little waterway for only the people in our area to use.”
Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @lyndavmapes.