Waterfront clearcut at former Mar Vista Resort draws $3K fine

An aerial photograph show an area cleared of shoreline vegetation

David Honeywell has paid a $1,000 fine for clearing some 80 trees and several acres of shrubs and other vegetation from waterfront land at their Orca Dreams estate, formerly the Mar Vista resort, near False Bay on the west side of San Juan Island.

The fine was imposed as part of a “Notice of Violation” issued on Feb. 6 by the San Juan County Community Development and Planning Department. The violation lists Orca Dreams of Spokane, Wash., as the property owner and Dave Honeywell as the responsible person.

The notice also included Allen Benjamin Engle, who did the work on the property through his business, Solid Ground, as an additional responsible person. Engle was fined $2,000; he has reportedly told the county he will pay the fine.

Engle was fined $1,000 for clearing the shoreline of vegetation without permits and, according to Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord, an additional $1,000 for professional negligence. An addition to enforcement rules approved last year allows the county to double a fine imposed on a licensed contractor because they are supposed to know and to comply with local regulations, Gaylord said.

“This is the first time we’ve used the double penalties,” he said.

The notice of violation was issued by Chris Laws, the county code enforcement officer, after an investigation in response to an emergency order issued by Laws in December, after neighbors reported the ground clearing activity to the county.

Coincidentally, the U.S. Department of the Interior investigated possible disturbance of golden paintbrush, a threatened species, during the cutting and clearing operation. Theodore Thomas, an ecologist with Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service, who has monitored paintbrush at Mar Vista since 1995, concluded that no damage was done either to golden paintbrush plants in the area or to the paintbrush habitat.

The Honeywells, who won a nine-figure Powerball prize in early 2013, purchased the property in mid-2013 for $6 million. According to an eight-page statement signed by Honeywell and prepared in response to the county investigation, the Honeywells intend to use the property as their retirement home and family retreat.

The statement details the application to CD&P for a residential pre-application “to determine the setback for a house we wanted to build, and to document the existing non-conforming structures.” Two planners from the CD&P department conducted a site visit April 21, which was attended by Dave and Nancy Honeywell, the realtor, Bob Elford, and Michael Tranfo, architect for the future house.

The discussion and the subsequent letter from CD&P included discussion of existing structures and “the feasibility of placing an additional residence on one of the parcels,” according to the CD&P letter of July 1, 2013.

Honeywell’s statement says, “I do not recall anyone discussing any restrictions against cutting trees at the site visit, and the tree cutting issue wasn’t on my radar at this point. Virtually all of our questions for the county about the feasibility of our intended use of the property, such as the cabins and where we could build a house, were answered to our satisfaction at the site visit.”

The CD&P letter reviews the “two (2) Environmentally Sensitive Areas” that affect the parcels and, on the first page, says that “any proposed development” must include a “full Storm Water Management Plan.” The next to last paragraph of the letter says, “Removal of trees within the Shoreline Jurisdiction area can be done only with a CD&P-approved tree removal plan.”

Honeywell states he did not receive the letter and that neither Elford, who lives on the property, nor their prospective architect, Tranfo, who both received the county letter, passed on information about tree-cutting.

In September, Honeywell hired local arborist Casey Baisch to trim fir trees and Engle to “trim the overgrown area on the hillside.”

Honeywell’s statement relates that he visited his property in September, October and November, but never saw a tree cut down or noticed the extent of the clearing of the hillside. The statement does not say whether Honeywell discussed with Baisch or Engle whether permits from the county were required for any of the work being done.

The Honeywell’s statement says they returned to the property in mid-December and that, “we were shocked at what we saw. The amount of clearing on the hillside was far greater than we had directed or anticipated.” The statement says, “I had clearly instructed both Casey Baisch and Ben Engle not to trim or cut down any more firs.”

The notice says that “approximately” 80 alders, maples and Douglas firs were removed.

The last sentence of the Honeywell statement reads, “If additional documents or facts are brought to my attention in the future, I may remember additional or different details.”

In addition to the fines, the notice of violation requires that “Orca Dreams LLC shall develop a Restoration Plan that mitigates the disturbed area as described above in accordance with the Washington State Department of Ecology who shall review and approve the plan.”

The violation must be corrected by March 27, according to the notice.

Telephone calls to the Honeywells’ attorney seeking comment have not been returned.