A tale of two property owners

Owner of a bluff-top property thought he was following the rules. But that doesn’t ease the anxiety of homeowner at the toe of the slope

HANSVILLE — This is a story about an incident that shouldn’t have happened.

An unnecessary incident where a series of failures to communicate resulted in anger and anguish for some, and hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in county and state staff time.

It’s a story that is an object lesson for all of us on the need to communicate more effectively on the civic and personal levels.

But most of all, it’s an all-too-human story about two men who have never met or talked. One is building his dream home on the top of a bluff. The other one lives below him.

At the bottom
On Sept. 23, Peter Jacobchuk’s Friday morning was shattered by the sound of chainsaws directly above his property at 8141 No Point No Point Road, Hansville. Someone on top of the steep, 200-foot-tall bluff above his home was felling trees.

Jacobchuk said that, ever since the Oso disaster, he had been concerned about the possibility of deforestation above his home causing a landslide.

“I’m really concerned about being buried alive — literally,” he said. “The toe of the slope is just 10 feet from the back of my house.”

He says he was told, after he bought his home, that the house had once been damaged so badly by a slide that it had been temporarily condemned. “There was a small slide last winter on the west side of me, too,” he said.

He said he had reported chain saw activity to the sheriff’s office on Jan. 17, 2015.

So when the chain saws started this time right above the house, he immediately called the sheriff’s office again.

“The first deputy didn’t tell me much. He said he couldn’t do anything because it wasn’t a critical matter. He suggested I call the county and work it through them,” Jacobchuk said. “Then a second deputy called. He… said he had looked into the situation and they had a permit and it was far enough back from the hill that it was safe.”

The Sheriff’s Department call for service report, dated Sept. 23, confirms: “Permitted cut. Not cutting down the hillside.”

Then Jacobchuk discovered the county and state had no record of a permit being issued.

“Both confirmed there was no permit on record,” he said. He said he was angry when, on Sept. 28, he called the sheriff’s office again. “I explained to the supervisor that I was lied to by the deputy and that’s not what I expect from a law enforcement officer.”

According to the sheriff service report, he was very upset and told the officer, “I may as well go up there and shoot someone.”

To add to his frustration, the Department of Natural Resources in Olympia, while sympathetic, said it was a county issue and not in their jurisdiction. But he heard nothing from the county for the longest time.

Meanwhile, up on top
The owner of the hilltop property in question knew nothing about any of this.

“I would have gladly talked to him,” David Behar said. “I would have told him the last thing I would want to do is to put someone’s home as risk.”

A year ago, with their children grown, Behar and his wife had started looking for a quieter, more laid-back lifestyle to retire to. When they visited Kitsap County, he said they knew they had found the perfect place.” They rented a home in the Hansville area. When a lot on the Point No Point Estates became available, they bought it and set to work making their dream home on top of the bluff a reality.

Site preparation came first. Behar said he wanted to do everthing right. He went to the home owners association for permission to prepare the site for development, including trimming the trees on the slope below his land to improve the view. They gave him permission, subject to his hiring an arborist and a “geotech”— a licensed geological technical engineer.

On their advice, he hired Shawn Williams, a geological engineering technologist with Envirosound Consulting in Silverdale. Williams has almost 30 years of geotechnical and environmental project management experience For the past 12 years Williams had worked primarily on the Olympic and Kitsap penisulas, according to the Envirosound website. The layout of the Point No Point Estates development had been one of his projects, so he knew the property well.

Williams and an arborist evaluated the slope and laid out a plan. Behar said he followed the recommendations to the letter. “We didn’t do cutting on the bank [for example], we did trimming,” he said. “We went to great trouble and expense to trim them higher up so they would grow back faster, even though that means I’ll have to pay to have them trimmed again sooner.”

So when the deputy was told the owner had permission and wasn’t cutting down the hillside, he was mostly correct. Behar had the permission of the home owners association and trimming trees on the slope, not cutting them.

What he didn’t have was a permit and approval from the Kitsap County Community Development Department to do slope work.

Behar said that, coming from Seattle, he didn’t know the county required such a permit until he was notified by a county official in early October. “I drove to Port Orchard the very next day with the geotech’s report and a check,” he said.

Steve Heacock, the county’s senior environmental planner who ultimately spoke with Behar, said he, too, didn’t know anything about the matter for the longest time because Jacobchuk’s phone calls were not going to anyone who was managing the code compliance call flow. This was due in part to an unfilled vacancy for a code complaince officer. He said further delay was caused when a county employee tried to visit the site but didn’t have the code for the gate, Point No Point Estates being a closed and gated community. Sheriff’s reports indicate that emergency services had the code, but Heacock said he wasn’t privy to that information.

Heacock said there have similar problems people starting slope work in the past without a permit, especially with home owners associations. “It does end up being problematic,” he said,”Views bring in a lot of money.”

Typically there’s no penalty, Heacock said, as long as violators are code-compliant, get the permit and provide the necessary reports.

In this case, he said Behar is making every effort to get the oversight corrected. Heacock has the plans now. “It will be pretty complex,” he said. “At the moment he is not in total compliance, we haven’t reviewed the plan infull; it’s all in flux.”

In the meantime, he has communicated with Jacobchuk to let him know the situation is being dealt with and that he will be kept informed in the future.

Heacock’s advice to people considering doing work on sloped property: Communicate. Contact the county and get a permit, hire an arborist, a geotech and a civil engineer who can tell you how to direct surface water away from the site — and follow their guidance.

Another good piece of advice: keep the people at the bottom of the slope informed so they will know what’s going on when the chain saws start.

Landslides in the Hansville area
In 2008, the U.S. Geological Service mapped landslides in Kitsap County. At that time there had been larger slides in the past, to the north and south of Jacobchuk’s and Behar’s properties. The slide Jacobchuk referred to that damaged his home would have taken place after 2008.