Waterfront clearcut prompts 'stop work' order on Mar Vista remodel

From point to elbow, an area along the waterfront at Mar Vista Resort appears blond and bare after trees and vegetation were removed, reportedly without a permit.   - Aerial photo by Chris Teren
From point to elbow, an area along the waterfront at Mar Vista Resort appears blond and bare after trees and vegetation were removed, reportedly without a permit.
— image credit: Aerial photo by Chris Teren

An emergency order to "immediately stop all clearing and grading activity" was posted Dec. 17 by the San Juan County Code Enforcement Officer at the False Bay property purchased earlier this year by Dave and Nancy Honeywell.

The 40-acre property was formerly the Mar Vista Resort, one of the larger contiguous waterfront properties on Haro Strait on the west side of San Juan Island. The Honeywells, winners of a nine-figure Powerball jackpot in February of this year, purchased the property in early spring.

According to an April 15 residential pre-application, the Honeywells intend to build a new home and rehabilitate and remodel some of the former resort cabins and caretaker house. Some former cabins would be removed and parcel boundaries would apparently have to be changed to conform to current land use code requirements, according to the application.

The site visit was conducted in June by Annie Matsumoto-Grah of Community Development and Planning Department, who prepared a three-page report, dated July 1.

That report discussed two environmentally sensitive areas on the three parcels comprising the former resort, laying out for the Honeywells various environmental and development restrictions that must be met, including required plans and permits. Because "[t]he shoreline and waters offshore of the parcel contains protected marine habitat areas," the report asserts that "a full storm water management plan must be submitted" and "[r]emoval of trees within the shoreline jurisdiction area can be done only with a CD&P-approved tree removal plan."Mar vista aerial

Neither the stormwater management plan nor the tree-removal plan were apparently provided to the county and the state, nor could any other permit applications or documents be located in a search of county databases by the Journal.

The emergency order specifies four possible code violations: clearing and grading within the shoreline area without benefit of permits; converting land to a non-forestry use with benefit of an "approved Class IV General Forest Practice Permit that has received SEPA review"; failing to manage shoreline activity to minimize adverse impact to surrounding land and water uses; and "[c]onducting land-disturbing activity greater than one acre without benefit of an NPDES permit" issued by the state Department of Ecology.

Local arborist Casey Baisch told the Journal that the Honeywells consulted him this fall and that he agreed to "limb and trim some fir trees" and clean up bushes and other scrub growth —"nothing that would require a permit."

Baisch said he was shocked to return to the property after a few weeks to find that "more than a few" willows, alders and other trees" had been removed.

Stephanie Buffum, executive director of Friends of the San Juans, was irate when she saw photographs of the area. She believed the photographs showed dozens of trees had been removed and areas of native flowers and other vegetation removed.

"This will take decade to repair," Buffum said. "It's a great example of property owner irresponsibility. You do it right or you do it right, and Friends will make sure they do it right."

Baisch said he had been interviewed by code enforcement and told them that the few fir trees he had trimmed were still standing and that he did not know who had done the tree cutting. He said he believed that areas with Golden Indian Paintbrush, which are dormant this time of year, had not been disturbed and that the Honeywells were intent on "disturbing native vegetation" as little as possible.

Code Enforcement Officer Chris Laws and Community Development & Planning Acting Director Sam Gibboney declined to discuss events at Mar Vista, citing that it's an "ongoing investigation."

Telephone messages left at the Honeywell's local phone were not immediately returned. The Honeywell's local attorney, Mimi Wagner of the Law Offices of William J. Weissinger, and their real estate agent, Bob Elford, also declined to comment.



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