Lynn Cosmos, 75, collects weeds from her home garden to feed to her chickens May 13 off of Butterfield Road in Yakima. Cosmos has lived on her property for 45 years, raising her own food, chickens, and five Nubian goats. She is one of three homeowners who will lose their homes in a road expansion project. (Amanda Ray / Yakima Herald-Republic)

Lynn Cosmos, 75, collects weeds from her home garden to feed to her chickens May 13 off of Butterfield Road in Yakima. Cosmos has lived on her property for 45 years, raising her own food, chickens, and five Nubian goats. She is one of three homeowners who will lose their homes in a road expansion project. (Amanda Ray / Yakima Herald-Republic)

Yakima woman wants to stop the city from taking her home

She has lived off the land for 45 years. “This is my health plan. This is also my retirement plan.”

By Lex Talamo / Yakima Herald-Republic The numbers on Butterfield Road seem to end abruptly at 706, yielding to wide stretches of asphalt and industrial-looking compounds. But a sharp turn near Marsh Road reveals a shiny black mailbox, centered amidst creeping juniper, with 718 and “Lynn Cosmos” in neat white letters. The driveway is short, the light dim under a canopy of flowering crab apple and wild plum trees left wild. A wooden gate, painted deep violet, stands partly open near two certificates declaring the area a wildlife sanctuary. Beyond the gate is a scene from an enchanted garden, with birds flitting in and out of tree branches that have not succumbed to pruning shears, where the wild land has been tamed only enough to make room for the rows of cucumbers, corn, cilantro, horseradish, comfrey, beets, tomatoes, potatoes, parsley, okra, green beans, onions and collard greens that peek up through the fertile soil. Cedar, pine, Sequoia, oak, dogwood, maple, holly trees — all here. So are wisteria, trumpeter vine, honeysuckle, lilacs and currants. The air is steeped with sweetness, a brew of violet, peppermint, lemon balm and spearmint. Somewhere, a chicken crows. Then, bleating. Five sleek Nubian goats climb to their feet in an enclosure tucked beyond the garden, wet noses snuffling as Lynn Cosmos, 75, approaches with fresh grass in her hands. Cosmos has been scorched a deep bronze by the sun. She wears an olive green tank top and loosely flowing pants. She is barefoot. Hard work has made her hands strong. Daily gardening has lined her fingernails with moon-shaped crescents of dirt. Her snow-white hair is piled on top of head, held in place with a scrunchie, and her sea-green eyes, sparkling with laughter, are startlingly clear. She has worked 45 years to make the land her own. But now she faces the possibility of losing it. Cosmos lives along the proposed route for a county road expansion that will provide an alternate connection from Terrace Heights to downtown Yakima. She is one of three homeowners who will lose their homes in the first phase of the project. But Cosmos will not only lose her home. She will lose her studio, where she offers healing massage and Feldenkrais body work, and hosts community drum circles and a monthly women’s circle. She will no longer be able to grow her own food, collect eggs from her chickens, make cheese from her goats’ milk. She will no longer be able to live off the land, like she’s done for decades. “I’ll lose more than my home, my studio,” she said. “I’ll lose my way of life. I’ll lose my independence.”
Lynn Cosmos walks into her chicken coop on her Yakima property May 13. (Amanda Ray / Yakima Herald-Republic)

Lynn Cosmos walks into her chicken coop on her Yakima property May 13. (Amanda Ray / Yakima Herald-Republic)

Heavy traffic Yakima Avenue is the only connector between downtown Yakima and the Terrace Heights neighborhood east of town. During rush hour, the road gets congested. The smell of exhaust hangs heavy in the air. People want to get where they’re going. And they want to get there faster. The East-West corridor project has been in the works for almost 20 years. It’s part of the Yakima County transportation improvement goals to improve connections, accessibility, traffic and the economy. Studies began in 2001, then continued in 2011, with four alternatives: Ridge Top, Rest Haven Bench, Ridge Base and Lowlands. A 2012 study revised the alternatives to minimize impact on the Yakima River and developed properties, offer more compatibility for nonmotorized use, reduce steep grades and finish quicker. The chosen Lowlands alternative would connect with improvements on H Street in Yakima and extend eastward under Interstate 82 to cross the Yakima River, with an eastern boundary at Butterfield Road. Joan Davenport, director of community development for Yakima, said improvements to the existing transportation network are desperately needed due to high rates of projected population growth for the area over the next 20 years. Consistently heavy Yakima Avenue traffic, dotted with trucks, creates congestion — which then leads to safety concerns, Davenport said. Commuters using the route early in the morning or between 4-6 p.m. are most affected. “The new corridor will open up opportunity for new public transit routes, improved emergency response times, and non-vehicular transportation,” Davenport said. The project also is expected to stimulate growth at the old Boise Cascade mill site. Yakima County Engineer Matt Pietrusiewicz said the environmental review for the first phase of the project, encompassing Butterfield Road, is complete. Work is planned to start this fall. Construction for the second and third phases should start in spring 2020, Pietrusiewicz said.
Lynn Cosmos holds her black cat “Silly” inside her Yakima home studio May 13. (Amanda Ray / Yakima Herald-Republic)

Lynn Cosmos holds her black cat “Silly” inside her Yakima home studio May 13. (Amanda Ray / Yakima Herald-Republic)

‘I’m not selling’ Sitting at a wooden table, sheltered by a massive pine, Cosmos seems immune to the fast pace of the world and the vehicles whooshing by mere feet from her sanctuary. Her morning starts at dawn, when her chickens wake her. She feeds them, then milks her goats. She checks on the kombucha culture she has brewing, then hits the gardens. “It’s healthy. It’s grounding. It’s sanity, to be outside,” she said. “Having hands in the earth is a medicine for the craziness that’s going on.” A lean black cat jumps up into the chair beside her, rests his head on his paws, curls his tail around his body. He was a stray. But now, he’s hers. One of her guests named the cat Sylvester. Cosmos didn’t like that name, so she started calling him “Psilocybin” after the mushrooms that have psychedelic properties when ingested. She calls him “Silly” as a nickname. The cat raises his head and yawns. Regardless of his various names, he seems perfectly content with the arrangement. So does Cosmos, who gives the cat a final pat before heading back into the yard. She moves spryly to the large fenced enclosure where she keeps her adult chickens. Chicks stay in an adjacent enclosure. Beyond the coops is her “sauna,” a mound-shaped structure that also is a David Silvercrow hexagon hogan — a unique architectural style that originated in the Pacific Northwest in the 1970s. A second David Silvercrow hogan nearby contains her sun-filled studio and meditation room. She walks with a slight limp. Tour complete, Cosmos sits down at the table and rolls up the hem of one pant leg to reveal a strip of gauze over discolored swelling. “I hurt my knee. I put a bandage on it,” she explains, then looks up, her eyes sparkling with something. Mischievousness. Pride. “At 75, I’ve never used my Medicaid. I don’t even go to doctors.” She gestures at the land. “This is my health plan. This is also my retirement plan. I don’t have anything else.” She reminisces. Her first word was “outside.” Cosmos doesn’t remember that, of course. But she grew up hearing the story. Not “Mama.” Outside. “I wanted to go outside,” she says. “That was what felt safe to me, being outside.” She pauses. Her smile sags. “It’s shameful to cover this fertile soil with concrete,” she says. “The galling thing is not that I’m selling it to someone who would appreciate it. I would be forced to sell it to someone who is just going to destroy it.” The first time she heard about the East-West corridor was in 2010. At that time, her home wasn’t along the proposed routes. In 2011, it appeared at a public hearing that the anticipated route would stay south of her home. Then, on May 10, 2018, she went to another public hearing. The date is etched in her memory. “They told me the road was coming right through my house,” she says. “They had arrived to this final alignment suddenly and they were in a hurry to do this part of it now.” She stands. “Would you like a map?” She walks a few paces to her home — a former preschool with huge windows — and returns with a map of the proposed East-West corridor route. She found out, through a public records request, that an appraiser sent by the county had valued her property at $130,000. Not much, she says. Not even a fraction of the value that the earth holds for her. “I haven’t made a lot of money in my life. I could have. But I’ve chosen to do what I felt was right for the Earth and for how we should live in the world,” she says. “Now I will defend this piece of land, because this is where I am, and to make a stand where I am makes sense to me.” She started a petition, which she presented to county commissioners at a May 7 meeting. “Would you like a copy?” she asks. She’s still not in a hurry. But now she moves with a sense of urgency. The petition has 56 signatures. Cosmos says they are from people who have recognized the importance of her healing space. Who tell her that Yakima can’t afford to lose what she’s created. Who have told her to take a stand, to defend her space. “What I said to the commissioners this time was that I want people to come out and see it,” she says. “I told them, ‘You make these plans on paper. Come out and see what the results will be in the world.’” Anne Mohagen was one of those at the commission meeting beside Cosmos. She also knocked on the doors of those impacted by the route with Cosmos to see their reactions. Mohagen had known of Cosmos because the two women frequented the same circles. Then Mohagen read a letter to the editor in the Yakima Herald-Republic that Cosmos’ sanctuary was in the route of the East-West corridor project, which she already opposed. She was devastated that her friend’s home could be destroyed. The county’s promise of compensation did not sit well with either woman. “What makes you happy is not all these material things,” Mohagen said. “We saw that when we went to those impacted in the lower-income neighborhoods. Their land is where their trees are planted, where their pets are buried, where they have celebrated birthdays. It’s not just where they live. It’s their history.” Cosmos said her land is not just “a house at the intersection of two roads near the train.” “No amount of money would compensate me for what I have here,” she says. “I’m not selling.”
Lynn Cosmos feeds her Nubian goats May 13 at her home in Yakima. (Amanda Ray / Yakima Herald-Republic)

Lynn Cosmos feeds her Nubian goats May 13 at her home in Yakima. (Amanda Ray / Yakima Herald-Republic)

Seeking a balance Minutes from a 2011 county commission meeting show that District 1 Commissioner Mike Leita had some questions about the proposed corridor project. But he also saw the need. “We are looking past today, into 20 to 50 years from now,” Leita said. “Suffice it to say there is additional development that should occur in the Terrace Heights area that is not able to occur right now because of the marginal connectivity.” There has to be a balance of additional development opportunities with the concerns of the homeowners impacted, Leita said. “Quite frankly, I do look at this as if it were my home,” he said. “This is a difficult issue to be handling within our community, so the community needs to be aware that this process is moving forward, and they need to be engaged in the process.” On Friday, Leita said the project has met with overwhelming support. The “project has been very extensive, including public outreach with overwhelming community support,” Leita said in an email. “I am surprised by those who claim the project has lacked transparency.” Cosmos has concerns about what was included — or excluded — from a cultural survey that allowed the project to move forward. The Union Gap Canal, which runs under Butterfield Road, is one of the Valley’s early water features that could be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Pietrusiewicz, the county engineer, confirmed Monday that an individual had brought concern about possibly overlooked historic resources to the county’s attention and that officials were working with their environmental consultant. Michele Pescador, the county’s right-of-way manager, said the county has worked to engage homeowners with advisory assistance, meetings, individual mailings and calls. All acquisitions will comply with federal regulations, Pescador said, which provide relocation assistance and an offer of at least one comparable residence. Scared On April 30, Cosmos received a letter in the mail from her title company. “We are pleased to have received the order for your upcoming sale of the above referenced property,” the letter states. The address in the letter: 718 Butterfield. Cosmo’s home. Her sanctuary. The property that she still, to date, has no intention of selling. “I never told them I was going to sell this home,” she says. “I never reached out to them. This is crazy.” Scott Ferguson, who also lives along Butterfield Road and is slated to lose his home in Phase 1, received a similar letter. He also has no intent to sell. Ferguson has lived in his home for 28 years. He and his wife have raised seven children on the property, two of whom still live with them. He called the past few years a “roller coaster” — being told first by county staff that his home was not on the route, then that it was, then that it wasn’t. Now he has been told that it is. “We’re not sure if we’re ready,” he said. “This has been a very stressful situation.” Ferguson said he received a verbal quote from Pescador about what his property was worth. Because he felt losing his land was inevitable, he started looking for alternate homes. He found only one in the price range quoted: a home he described as “falling apart” and in the “hole”— a bad part of town. But on May 13, Ferguson received a message from Pescador telling him the numbers she had quoted him were “just examples,” and not an actual offer. “I’m very concerned,” Ferguson said. “The county is being very adamant about needing to find a house now, but I have nothing in writing. We don’t know where we stand. I’m at a loss for words and I’m scared.” Ferguson said that Pescador took the letter from the title company with her when she left his home during a consultation. He said she has agreed to return the letter, though he has not yet received it. “I want closure,” he said. “If this is going to happen, and we can’t stop it, we want them to be fair to us.” Pescador, on Friday, said that the letters were a “miscommunication” between the county and the title company. “I regret any additional hardship on these impacted owners and we are reaching out to communicate that the mailings had no intention to be insensitive,” she said in an emailed statement. Pietrusiewicz said the county is legally required to compensate those who will be relocated by the project, and will do so fairly. “We strive to be open with these people and communicate as much as possible,” he said. “We may have communicated too early.” He paused. “Or too much.” Eminent domain City and county officials held an open house April 17 to answer questions about the route and to listen to feedback. “The meeting was a good opportunity to let the public come in and look at the early plans,” Davenport said. “We invited all property owners along the entire corridor from North First Street to Butterfield Road.” Pietrusiewicz said that many people at the open house voiced support for the project. Others did not — including the homeowners who will be significantly impacted. “This is a critical timeline for us, but we’re not going to take any shortcuts,” Pietrusiewicz said. “We’re trying to minimize the negative impact.” But the county will move the project forward, even if that means resorting to seizing the land through eminent domain, he said. “The route selection process was vetted very thoroughly and very publicly,” he said. On Sunday, May 19, Cosmos is holding an open house of her own from 3-5 p.m. Cosmos said she’s hoping for a good turnout, including visits from the county commissioners, and everyone is welcome. “This was my example of how people could live,” she says. “People need to know it’s possible.”

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