PORT ANGELES — Cleanup work on property along an alley behind the Lincoln Street Safeway began in earnest last week following enforcement action against the landowner, a former Clallam County Superior Court judge.
Code Enforcement Officer Erin Brown of the Port Angeles Police Department issued a Sept. 30 notice of violation for 101, 105 and 115 E. Fifth St. to property owner and former Judge Brian Coughenour, 70, an Eden Valley Road resident whose son, Cody, 42, lives on one of the properties.
An abatement notice was not issued to the California owner of a paved lot leased to Safeway that was filled with junk next to 115 E. Fifth St.
Garbage, tires, appliances, metal and vehicles fill all three of Coughenour’s lots along the alley from South Laurel Street to Lincoln Street between Safeway and the properties, inching out to South Laurel and along East Fifth across from the city fire station. Workers were cleaning up properties Saturday.
The city’s notice cited the presence of junk vehicles, trash, debris, failing structures such as buildings and fences, and articles, objects and vehicles jutting into the alley right of way. Vehicles, including a yellow school bus, was on South Laurel street Saturday morning.
The parcels covered by the warning will be re-inspected this coming Friday.
“If the violation(s) have not been corrected, the city will initiate abatement proceedings,” Brown said in the notice.
“Failure to correct violations may result in a civil offense subject to a monetary fine.”
In a second notice issued Tuesday, Brown warned the former judge to not to deposit refuse into the surrounding public rights of way and said he would be charged for the cost of removal.
Brown did not return calls for comment Thursday and Friday.
The city has received at least a half-dozen complaints about the mess, Assistant City Attorney Chris Cowgill said Friday.
Drive-by videos posted on Port Angeles-centric Facebook sites have drawn more than 500 views.
“It’s being cleaned up,” Coughenour said last week.
“I know my son has a lot of metal and materials there, and it’s being organized and cleaned up and taken off as we speak.”
Coughenour said he intends to talk to city officials about an “action plan” to resolve the notice.
City officials are open to considering an agreement to resolve the notice of violation, Cowgill added.
“That’s what it boils down to, an agreement on the property owner’s part to get the problem resolved. The city does not have any problem working with Judge Coughenour.”
Cowgill said a lack of voluntary cooperation could result in a notification that fines will accrue, followed by legal action.
“Those are just elevators, the next step in the process,” he said.
On the lot leased to Safeway, before being removed last week, were five abandoned cars, a pile of car seats, broken-down kids’ toys, a broken-down camper, eight bicycles, toilet paper and syringes, store manager Mike LaGrange said Friday.
“There was the wreckage of human lives,” said LaGrange, who visits the parcel daily to ward off trespassers.
LaGrange and other store personnel were joined by a few area residents last week who put garbage and assorted junk into a giant bin.
Workers were sweeping and completing the cleanup Saturday.
The lot will be fenced off by December to prevent any further encroachment, LaGrange said.
Until recently, “we didn’t know it was ours,” LaGrange said. It had been deleted from landscaping maps a few years ago when the property was purchased from Safeway, he said.
He said Brown had been considering issuing a notice of violation for the parcel.
Coughenour’s lots include the ToadLily House International Hostel at 105 E. Fifth St., operated by his son.
Cody Coughenour said last week the hostel has been closed for months due to COVID-19 restrictions that he and his father said facilitated problems created by numerous people staying at the lots.
LaGrange said years ago he had agreed to let Cody Coughenour park cars there to accommodate guests at the hostel.
The three properties include Brian Coughenhour’s former law office, a commercial site at 101 E. Fifth St., where his son lives.
This spring, the hostel began attracting people from area housing facilities for homeless people who converged there after the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, Coughenour and his son said
It became difficult to evict them after they stayed for 14 days because of renter-eviction protections established by Gov. Jay Inslee, Brian Coughenour said Friday.
The trash piled up.
“I don’t want it to look like that, I never wanted it to look like that,” Coughenour said.
“Our hands were really tied as far as the people there because of the governor’s orders,” he said, adding he had to initiate extensive court proceedings to remove one especially troublesome occupant.
Cody Coughenour said the pandemic sped up a chain of events that led to “less than advantageous” guests on the parcels, many of whom car-camped.
“I was being taken advantage of, and I had no authority,” he said.
The garbage accumulated from people staying there and passersby throwing it on the property or leaving it at an overflowing refuse container, he and his father said.
Compounding the problems was Cody Coughenour’s failed effort to start a sales and liquidation company, he said. He collected items for the endeavor, then the business partnership went south.
“Things are being cleaned up now,” he said Thursday morning as he ate scrambled eggs in the morning chill while sitting on the porch of his father’s former office.
A decrepit fifth-wheel trailer sat at the curb. The adjacent strip of grass was strewn with items.
“I really appreciate the local police department for being helpful, not necessarily with cleanup but allowing me to park some of these vehicles and some of these trailers so I can get some of this junk out of here, and I’ll describe it as junk, too,” he said.
LaGrange and Daisha Steed, office manager of Olympic Laundry & Dry Cleaners, located next to the Safeway lot, said the alley has attracted loitering. She suspects she has witnessed drug deals taking place within sight of the front counter.
Steed, 37 and a lifelong Port Angeles resident, walks the alley regularly. She’s worked at the laundry for 10 years, occasionally stitching together COVID-19 face masks at a sewing machine by the front door.
She said elderly customers have been scared away from coming into the laundry by foot traffic from the alley. The owner was forced to lock the garbage container.
“From about April until now, it has just progressively gotten worse and worse,” Steed said last week while a customer lugged in bags of laundry.
She said that “absolutely” the situation has improved in recent weeks.
Police Chief Brian Smith regularly patrols the area.
“I would characterize it as a substantial problem [and] that we are looking forward to cooperation from the property owner ahead of the city having to continue a formal process,” Smith said last week.
City Manager Nathan West acknowledged the cleanup along the alley’s length has taken time..
“The number one element is cooperation from the property owners,” he said Thursday.
“The continued impact to the neighborhood in that area isn’t acceptable, and we need to see better progress.”
There was more than waste on Coughenour’s property.
In the debris, there was life.
According to the notice and order to abate, Coughenour was engaging in illegal animal husbandry.
“Ducks must be relocated,” it commanded.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].