Neighbors want the city to use its eminent-domain powers to take back a once-public beach.
Yes, it’s another neighborhood dispute in Seattle. The lineup this time includes:
a bunch of chalk graffiti about “property theft” and “greed.” Allegations of public sex, drugs and booze. Plenty of furious Facebook postings.
Of course, lawyers, with a case that went all the way to the state Supreme Court.
And even relationship guru Pepper Schwartz getting into the fight with a not-very-relationship-enhancing “—- you!”
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It’s all been over a 60-foot-wide lot where Northeast 130th Street dead-ends into the Lake Washington shoreline.
A tiny piece of land, but it was a scarce public beach in the Lake City area.
Now it is fenced off.
The courts decided the street-end lot is private, equally owned by Keith Holmquist and Fred Kaseburg, the neighbors on each side of the lot.
It came down to whether all those pesky i’s had been dotted and t’s crossed way back in 1932, when obviously different owners bought the properties. They weren’t.
In March, a chain-link fence went up, with signs. One reads, “PRIVATE PROPERTY. NO TRESPASSING.”
Another says, “WARNING. Security Cameras in Use.” Hello, neighbors!
Things began turning in nasty in June 2012, with the first court filing.
Streets are supposed to be public, or at least have a right of way. But not always, it turns out.
A woman posts on the Facebook page for Friends of NE 130th Beach, “I am stunned that this little public access beach can be taken from us … For those of us without the luxury of waterfront property/private lake access this spot is a community treasure …”
A man posts, “It felt like a punch in the gut when I came with my daughter and raft two weeks ago and found the fence.”
For 82 years, the lot had been used by the locals.
“I use it every day,” says Kevin Hendrickson on a recent afternoon.
He lives a few blocks away and makes it a habit to take Stella, his yellow Lab, out for daily walks. She loves to run into the water.
Now, says Hendrickson, “She just sits there and stares at the fence.”
It was a local hangout, mostly, for those living up the hill from the more expensive properties along the hidden, waterfront-hugging Riviera Place Northeast. To get there, you have to wind your way down 42nd Place Northeast, or down stairs and across the Burke-Gilman Trail.
Riviera is a street in which a $1.4 million property is not unusual. It’s an urban oasis just a few minutes from the Lake City Fred Meyer. One home sold there was described as “Miami in Seattle.”
The original owners from 1932 had wanted the dead-end lot between them to be a public beach. That year they conveyed the lot to the Cedar Park Community Club. The thing was, the deed was never delivered.
In that way and others, the transaction — as detailed in court findings that were upheld in February by the state Supreme Court — was improperly done.
It would come back to haunt the city, and allowed Holmquist and Kaseburg to lay claim to the vacated land.
Holmquist works in fire- and water-damage restoration. Kaseburg is a patent attorney who formerly practiced real-estate law. He bought the lakeside home in 2010, and certainly knows his property rights. In an email, Kaseburg says Holmquist “is doing a great job being our spokesperson.”
No way did they want a park between their homes, no matter how tiny a park it was.
“There are multiple problems. There are no facilities,” says Holmquist, meaning a toilet. “What are people going to do? Use the bushes?”
And where would the parking be in this narrow street that already takes maneuvering to drive it?
Holmquist says he’s lived there for 18 years, and over that time has taken care of the beachside lot. “A weed whacker three or four times year,” he says.
He’s put up with the partyers.
“Alcohol, sex out there, drug use,” he says. “Hypodermic needles, syringes. Beer cans, hard-liquor bottles.”
He qualifies his remark. The parties are mostly in the summertime, he says. “And it’s not like every night or weekend. I’m not going to fabricate.”
In court documents, Holmquist and Kaseburg included photos taken with a security camera. There are some eight young men and women on the beach or the water by an inflatable boat. “Another picture of loud party,” says the caption.
The hillside neighbors who want the beach open are led by Dave Pope, a retired graphic designer. “I never saw a naked person there, never saw a person drinking on the beach,” he says.
He’s led the social-media campaign to make the beach public, with plenty of visuals for TV crews.
Pope has placed a plastic box with colored chalk at the top of stairs leading to the Burke-Gilman Trail. It’s for people to write messages about the beach.
And so Holmquist has woken up to see in front of his home the chalk message, “GREED,” with an arrow pointing to his property.
“I’ve had people go by and leave dog poop in a plastic bag on my carport, people hollering things, I’ve been called … well, it rhymes with truck,” he says.
He and Kaseburg filed two police reports in May about the dog poop.
After throwing bagfuls of poop on the Holmquist and Kaseburg properties, says one report, the suspect drove away in a pickup. Another poop thrower was more carbon conscious. “The suspect left riding southbound on his bicycle,” says the report.
The encounter with Pepper Schwartz took place May 28, when she confronted Sue Pope, wife of David Pope.
Schwartz, a longtime University of Washington professor, is Kaseburg’s fiancé. She had followed Sue Pope up the stairs from the trail, after Pope had finished chalking, “Save the Beach.”
Chalk markings are included in the city’s graffiti-nuisance code. The Parks and Recreation Department says its crews wash it off “when they can.”
Schwartz told Pope she was doing something illegal.
In a Facebook posting, Pope says she responded, “If you want to talk about ‘illegal’ how about a guy who deprives an entire neighborhood of a community beach!”
In the exchange, says Schwartz in an email, “ … I lost my temper. I deeply regret that! I tossed off an obscenity which was truly stupid but she pressed a button I didn’t even know I had.”
The battle has not ended.
The neighbors appeared before the Seattle City Council, bringing “Save the Beach” signs. A petition by the neighbors had 2,400 names.
The city has been sympathetic.
It has made it a priority to improve public access to 149 public streets that end on waterfronts, and sometimes have been encroached with fences and landscaping by adjoining private owners. Most are owned by the city.
The city says it’s also taking a look at where 135th Avenue Northeast ends at the lake. That lot is on a year-to-year lease to the adjoining owners, for about $15,000 annually, who have fenced off a big chunk of it. The city says there are “challenges” for public access to that lot because of a steep slope.
Both the council and the mayor have come to the neighbors’ side.
In an email, Mayor Ed Murray writes, “I am actively exploring all of the available options for acquiring the street end, including the use of eminent domain.”
That could mean compensating Holmquist and Kaseburg.
“Is this the best use of public funds?” asks Holmquist.
And there is more.
Holmquist and Kaseburg have filed for damages totaling $113,400 against the city while the case wound its way through the courts, and they lost “exclusive use” of the property while the city “invited public use.”
They came up with that sum using the city’s own rental-use formula for residential street-end permits.
Needless to say, the responses to that $113,400 claim were quick when Dave Pope posted on Facebook, “It wasn’t enough for Holmquist and Kaseburg to steal the NE 130th Beach from the public but they also want to be compensated … ”
“Oh My Freaking GAWD!!!!!!! These two really take the cake … ”
Oh, more than likely, as this story unfolds, there’ll be plenty more words said.