EDMONDS — Richard Lord had to flee his house the night a mass of mud rumbled down from the bluff above and sent a tree through a second-story wall.
He left within hours and never moved back.
Four years later, the once-grand home near the end of Norma Beach Road sits empty. Thieves, vandals and black mold have left a state of ruin, inside and out.
A bank took ownership in December.
“I don’t think there should ever be anything built here,” Lord said during a return visit in January. “Look at that hill. I don’t feel secure.”
Lord and his wife, Pat, have long since moved on from their digs north of Meadowdale. But if you’re interested, the bank is open to selling the 5,000-square-foot spread with sound and mountain views. The asking price of $209,000 is less than a quarter of what it sold for in 2004.
“House is MAJOR fixer if not teardown,” an online listing declares. “Corner lot on quiet street.”
The blurb continues with a warning: “Landslide on steep bank behind/above property, retaining wall damaged. No keybox or access, house is unsafe.”
While technically possible, high costs and regulatory hurdles make rebuilding the house doubtful.
Land-use obstacles could increase in slide areas, given the host of reforms under discussion after last year’s Oso landslide, which killed 43 people.
Shallow mudslides often hit homes and train tracks along coastal bluffs in south Snohomish County. Though far smaller in scale than the deep-seated hillside collapse in Oso, they do put lives in danger.
State and county policymakers have considered new requirements for landslide areas. Proposals include bigger setbacks from steep slopes. They could mandate real estate disclosures for known landslide dangers.
On Tuesday, a new state rule was approved requiring the possibility that anyone seeking to log in landslide-prone areas might have to provide additional scientific data.
“It was like being in a horror flick”
Richard Lord was home with his dog, Toby, when the slide hit March 14, 2011. His wife was out that Monday evening.
For the previous seven years, the Lords had maintained their house in pristine condition. Decorated with a beach theme, light-colored carpets and wood floors gave it an airy feel.
“This was a great place to live, a great party house,” he said.
He remembers the vibration, but not the sound.
“After the initial slide, a tree came through the house,” he said. “It was like being in a horror flick.”
An 18-foot-high retaining wall absorbed some of the blow, but was left broken in spots.
Toby, a flat-coated retriever who has since died, refused to budge, so Lord carried him out.
Within 2½ hours, authorities told him there was no going back.
The couple and their two dogs spent the night at their business, Champions Real Estate in Lynnwood. The next day, he woke up at 3:30 a.m. to make store deliveries for his candy business, Rocket Chocolate.
The Lords spent the first week at a motel then moved to a rental house. The house they now own in Mill Creek is less than half the size of their old one.
They waged a futile battle for an insurance settlement. After talking to about a dozen attorneys, they decided that pursuing the issue in court wouldn’t be worth the potential return.
In a letter, Pat Lord described the couple “dusting ourselves off from this over and over.”
“Our lives have been put on hold for many years now,” she wrote. “It would be great if our bank set us free like they do so many others with much smaller problems.”
Richard Lord said he’s happy to have escaped alive. At the same time, the 67-year-old said the event “guarantees that I’ll spend the rest of my days working.”
County records listed the house’s owner as the Bank of New York Mellon as of Dec. 29.
A representative from the listing agent, Brown Real Estate Group LLC of Seattle, said the only information they have on the property came from the county website.
“We don’t even know how long ago the prior owner vacated,” an email said.
Immediately after the slide, the house was in excellent condition, save for the mud. A 4-foot-high security gate out front did little to deter intruders, though. Thieves ripped out copper wiring, pipes and the central heating system, railings, fixtures and counters. Nearly anything with scrap value was carted off.
Torn insulation now hangs from the ceiling and graffiti mars the walls. On the floor lie piles of broken doors and shattered glass. Moss covers the gray-white carpeting in the game room above the three-car garage. A busted TV and dishwasher litter the driveway.
Hit by slides before
County planners have documented slides on the property going back two decades. They classify it as a landslide hazard area. Digital images reveal evidence of historic slides as well.
The Lords’ former house was built in 1990, permits show. The construction met building codes of the day. Only later that decade did the county adopt its first rules for building near so-called critical areas, including places with high landslide risks.
A previous owner applied for permits to rebuild the house after slide damage in 1998, county records show. He also obtained approval to build a large retaining wall engineered to shield the house.
Convincing county planners that it’s safe to rebuild again could be tough.
“If there is a fix, somebody’s going to have to be able to prove it to us,” county permitting manager Tom Rowe said. “And that’s not going to be easy to do. Bottom line.”
That means, among other things, producing a geotechnical report that addresses the safety of the proposed home and lays out a plan to stabilize the landslide.
That’s not impossible, Rowe said, “But the question is, what is the cost?”
For now, county code inspectors plan to keep an eye on the property, Rowe said. If they believe it’s become too dangerous, they could order abatement actions, including demolition.
“I don’t know if it rises to that, but it’s something I’m going to ask staff to take a look at,” he said.
The Lords aren’t asking for sympathy. They want to raise awareness about landslides, and the headaches that mortgage lenders and insurance companies can create after the fact.
“If you’re alive when you walk away from a mudslide, you’re good,” Richard Lord said. “It happened. Move on. You can’t get wound up in it.”
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @NWhaglund.
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