PORT TOWNSEND — The decision over what’s to be done with a popular public art piece in Port Townsend known as the Raccoon Lodge was given another extension, this time until Jan. 27.
The piece — a house-like structure on the front of an old tree stump on Clay Street — drew an outpouring of public support after City of Port Townsend officials notified the piece’s builder, Kevin Mason, that the tree was in the city’s right of way and must get a permit or come down.
Mason was notified in late October he would have to begin to bring the piece into compliance with city code or remove the structure and was given until Nov. 30 to make a decision. That deadline was extended to Dec. 30 — today — but Mason said Thursday the deadline had moved again to Jan. 27.
“The neighbor — the tree itself is on their property more than mine — they have a big say in this,” Mason said. “They have to have a say; it’s on their property. They’ve been out of town and they have not arrived yet.”
The Raccoon Lodge is affixed to the stump of what was once the largest recorded Monterey Cypress in Washington but which broke in half in 2018. The stump straddles the property line between Mason’s property and the neighbor, but it’s also close enough to the city sidewalk to put it in the public right of way, which means it has to be compliant with city code, officials said.
Even city officials admit that can be a heavy lift, and once the structure is permitted, it must be insured as a public art piece.
Mason, who’s 75 and been receiving chemotherapy treatment, previously told PDN he doesn’t have the money or the energy to go through the process of permitting the structure. But several professionals have offered their services, including a professional engineer who has written a report asserting the integrity of the Raccoon Lodge’s construction, Mason said.
A retired professional carpenter, Mason said he built the Raccoon Lodge to professional standards and disagrees with the city’s claim the structure could be a danger during high wind events.
But even once the structural integrity of the piece is verified and the proper permits obtained, city code requires art pieces in the public right of way must be managed and insured either by the city or a private organization.
In November, the city sent Mason a request for a voluntary compliance letter detailing five options for the future of the structure with an extended deadline of Dec. 30.
On Thursday, Emma Bolin, Port Townsend director of Planning and Community Development, said the city had received an incomplete building permit application, submitted by Harold Anderson of Quadra Engineering on Mason’s behalf, but that the city still needs confirmation from the neighbor.
Anderson could not be reached for comment Thursday.
“We sent them a fee estimate and some things we would need clarification on,” Bolin said.
The city had estimated total building permit fees to be $223, Bolin said, but those fees are set to increase in 2023. In addition to the application, a site plan and a construction plan are needed for a complete application.
Bolin said city staff sent an email to Mason and the neighbor stating the application had been received, but both parties still had until Jan. 27 to come to a final decision. The city will need written confirmation from both Mason and the neighboring property owner, she said.
According to the email sent to the property owners, the site plan submitted by Anderson included additions to the Raccoon Lodge such as a roof over the tree stump. The city has been working with the property owners on a path forward for the existing structure, the email said.
Other additions included in the submitted plan would fall solely on Mason’s private property, the email said, and would be treated as another matter.
City staff noted in the email that in addition to a building permit and engineering, there is a public arts review process required by city code.
“The building permit application can be put on hold until owners of both properties submit their decision to the City,” the email said.
“Once a decision has been made, the City will inform the property owners of next steps and required documentation based on the option selected.”
Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at email@example.com.