Everett bluff’s owners offer to sell to neighbors while threatening to sue trespassers

EVERETT — Nearly 30 homeowners along Alverson Boulevard in north Everett say they may have to spend thousands of dollars to buy the land behind their homes — or risk a lawsuit.

For decades, the homeowners who live between Legion Park and Maulsby Lane trimmed trees on the bluff to improve views, and dropped the trimmings and other yard waste down the slope.

The owners of the bluff say this was illegal and damaged their property, and they don’t want to be responsible if the city were to fine them. They’ve offered neighbors two options: Buy the land or risk being sued.

Some of the people who live on Alverson see this as a golden opportunity to take control of the land. Others say they’re being pressured to buy property they don’t want or can’t afford.

Neighbors plan to gather tonight to discuss their options. The owners have verbally agreed to sell the property to neighbors for $250,000, but no paperwork has been signed, said Dr. Bill Finley, a neighbor. Divided equally, that figure would work out to about $8,000 for each owner.

The bluff — a mix of trees, blackberry bushes and a swamp at the bottom — is squeezed between the railroad tracks below and the houses above. It’s inaccessible and not fit for development.

The land has been considered “open space” by the Snohomish County assessor since 1975, a designation that allows the owners to pay relatively little in taxes, said Steve Lightle, a residential appraisal manager. The land, made up of two parcels, has a total assessed value of $5,800. This year’s tax bill is $60.

The land used to be owned by the late Dr. George and Betty Moore, who lived on Alverson Boulevard. Neighbors said the Moores told them it was OK if they went onto the bluff to trim trees or dump grass trimmings.

Betty Moore died in 2006 and her family took over the estate.

They sold her house and they’d like to sell this property too, said her son-in-law, Jerry Wynne, a member of the Moore Family Trust and Estate, which controls the property.

Even if neighbors buy the property, they won’t be free to top trees or dump yard waste.

Without permits, both those activities are illegal in slopes or areas near wetlands, said Kevin Fagerstrom, Everett code enforcement director. After looking at aerial photos of the land, he said the bluff clearly falls under those rules.

Allowing things to continue as they are poses a liability risk for the family’s trust, Everett attorney Thomas Adams said.

The family isn’t trying to force anyone to buy the property, Adams said.

However, if the family finds itself in trouble with the city, “they would sue the trespassers.”

Past damage to the bluff has caused landslides. The estate also is concerned it could be on the hook if the city imposes penalties for the damage, Adams said.

As early as 2008, the Moores’ relatives began cracking down on activities that could damage the bluff.

Neighbors received certified letters informing them to stop tree trimming, bluff reinforcement, the dumping of yard waste and directing water from drain spouts down the hill. They also told the neighbors the land was for sale.

The letters left many of the neighbors with the impression they had to buy the bluff land or risk being sued, Finley said.

No one disputes the owners’ ability to do what they want with the property. It’s the manner in which the matter has been handled that has angered some of his neighbors, he said.

“It hasn’t generated any good feelings toward the family,” Finley said.

Still, he supports buying the land.

“The issue before the neighborhood is: Should we band together and buy the property,” neighbor and attorney Mitch Cogdill said. “If we are able to do that as a group, we’ll have more control over the uses the property could be put to.”

It’s not clear if every owner will want to pay, Finley said, and nobody agrees on what a fair price would be.

There are many ways to measure value, Finley said.

“You can’t put a value on it,” Finley said. “What’s the value of your view easement?”

Debra Smith: 425-339-3197, dsmith@heraldnet.com.

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