Higgins: Land Bank's presumptions cause problems Featured

Dear Editor,

I've read Amanda Azous's letter submitted to you on September 22, 2019. Is this the hard driving, relentless leader I have observed over the years or a new Amanda, somehow now the reasonable voice on Land Bank neighbor relations?

I was a named defending party in a lawsuit we believe Amanda Azous was instrumental in bringing against my partner and me. That lawsuit challenged our opposition to the Land Bank's wholesale presumption of uncontrolled public access to and within the remote Mt. Ben Private Short Plat.

Background. The Land Bank and San Juan Preservation Trust bought all three remaining undeveloped lots within our private short plat; the short plat begins a mile beyond the county maintained road end. The private road to the short plat passes through a dozen residentially occupied parcels along the way.

Here, the question has always been about the Land Bank's presumption that a full mile of private roadway was automatically available to the general public, simply because the Land Bank acquired property at the end of the road.

Beyond that question was the lack of their having demonstrated adequate circulation along that mile of private road as well as not having any Land Bank owned infrastructure within our private short plat, infrastructure required to support general public use.

Every circumstance is different to a degree. First you have to think in terms of smaller scale, but to directly compare our circumstance to Mt. Grant for example, someone would have already purchased and occupied a lone private residence next to the road near the top of the mountain. Then imagine being that home owner and being ambushed, as we were, by Land Bank staff at a hastily convened neighborhood meeting.

We were stunned to hear non residents, far removed from the short plat, being told that the Land Bank had no problem with them immediately beginning independent recreational use of the vacant lots enveloping our narrow, steep and isolated home site. This is what we faced during our first month as new arrivals to San Juan County.

Over a decade later, we had to withdraw permission for Land Bank staff to park two vehicles on our property because they held firm to an unprecedented claim in their draft management plan. They were explicit that the current staff parking area (which was always known to be on our land) would be expanded to four parking spaces for unsupervised use by the general public - meaning anyone with an internet connection the world over.

Simultaneously and returning to my reason for writing. While serving as chairperson of the Land Bank Commission in 2009, Ms. Azous created "The Mt. Ben Subcommittee." Obvious enough to us, this was done in order that back room discussions with the Preservation Trust might proceed without our having knowledge of their co-developing strategy. My questions about those subcommittee activities and the co-established private quarterly meetings with the Preservation Trust were deflected.

Later, when Lincoln Bormann circulated news to Land Bank Commissioners by email of the Karen Vedder drafted lawsuit being sent to us, Amanda replied boasting, "Glad to see this moving! I promised the SJPT that I would get the LB moving on it." It seems apparent enough to us she had been doing so for years within those closed door meetings.

The end result of the aborted suit was that the Land Bank had to relinquish their claim to a public parking lot on our property after having sacrificed the staff accommodation (plus guests) we had once provided for.

The real upshot is that we have been oppressively taxed in the form of punitive legal expenses; I imagine the Amaros are feeling similarly abused.

I cannot say how heavy a hand Ms. Azous has played in their case. But to even imagine that the Amaros should simply withdraw their suit at her importuning, to me, appears specious and certainly hypocritical.

Jim Higgins

San Juan Island



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