Port Townsend rejects settlement on nuisance property

Council members concerned about enforcing code

PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend City Council has rejected a proposed settlement from a homeowner’s estate, saying two property liens should remain in place on parcels that previously had been identified under the city’s nuisance ordinance.

The council on Monday voted 5-1, with one abstention, to reject the settlement, which was proposed by the estate of William Short.

The estate owns three parcels on Van Ness Street in uptown Port Townsend that neighbors have complained about for years. Two of them are now free of debris, but Short’s home at 1158 Van Ness St. remains a public nuisance, according to city documents.

Council member Michelle Sandoval, who served as mayor from 2008-12, said it was on the council agenda at that time.

“The neighborhood petitioned the City Council to do something,” Sandoval said. “It’s gone through several mayors, attorneys and staff to get to this point.”

After Short died four years ago, he left his home to the Ruth Short Loving Trust.

“Bill Short collected and stashed and stored valuable collectibles to him,” attorney Chuck Henry told the council Monday.

The city filed an action with Jefferson County Superior Court in 2018 as it sought a warrant of abatement to clean the properties. The court imposed liens on two parcels totaling $90,500.

The proposed settlement would have lifted one of the liens for $45,250. The estate would have sold the property and paid the city $2,000. With any additional proceeds from the sale, the estate planned to finance the cleanup of the property where Short lived, and it had a deadline of Sept. 30.

But council members were worried about the message it would send with regard to how it enforces its code.

“I’m a little concerned about the fairly meager payment in comparison to the time and many, many hours I know staff has put into this,” council member David Faber said. “If we clear these liens off the top, we are sending the message that code compliance is voluntary, effectively.”

Henry said Tuesday the home where Short lived used to be the city impound lot.

“There’s stuff there that goes back 40, 50 years,” he said.

Many items were mechanical, such as parts from Model T and Model A cars, Henry said. Other items came from the historic Lincoln school.

A good portion of them were collectible, but they were left to rust, Henry said.

The family has worked for more than a year to clean up two of the three parcels, often paying volunteers with home-cooked meals, he said.

“As diligent as the family has been, and I appreciate their efforts, the neighborhood has been as diligent to see this condition cleaned up,” Sandoval said during council deliberations.

Sandoval, a real estate broker, told the council that uptown lots have a value of at least $150,000 — “and I don’t know of one that has been that inexpensive in a number of years.”

“I do believe it would be unreasonable to accept this settlement given the market value of the property,” she added. “Less than 3 percent of what the liens are on the property is not a reasonable outcome for our community because, though we’re here to serve, the staff in all the different capacities, not to mention the council, put in a lot of time, and that equates to money.”

Council member Bob Gray, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said the ultimate goal is to get the property cleaned up.

“I’m not comfortable with starting to compare property values in settlements,” he said. “That, to me, is a dangerous road to go down. It kind of turns the city into a bounty hunter.

“I think the goal is to get the property cleaned, and I don’t think we should delay any further with that.”

Council member Ariel Speser abstained as she wanted more information on how the property would be cleaned up.

Henry said he’s left with two options, either to attempt to reach a different settlement agreement or to fight the case in court.

“If we have to try the case, it’s going to get really complicated,” he said.


Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at bmclean@peninsuladailynews.com.

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