Tree dispute a knotty problem
Real estate agent Randie Stone, who sells condos on Alki Beach in West Seattle and owns two beach bungalows on the strip — the famous "Alki flower houses" — is in a property dispute over a tree with her neighbors in the condominium next door.
Seattle Times staff reporter
A real-estate agent who has made a nice living out of selling condos on Alki — and owns two beach bungalows on the strip — is in a property dispute with her neighbors in the condo next door.
You know the ones. They're the pair of matching bungalows bedecked with all sorts of colorful flowers out front. There's also a big Douglas fir growing there, getting bigger all the time. And that's where this dispute arises.
Randie Stone bought one of the houses 20 years ago, and lives in it. She bought its twin 10 years ago, and leases it. An agent with Windermere Real Estate, Stone's name is on "for sale" signs up and down Alki Beach.
But this week, Stone — the real Randie Stone, not just her name — was in front of her place on Alki, sitting on a folding chair, taking in the sun and trying to simmer down.
She was safeguarding her 35-foot-tall fir that the neighbors in the condo plan to trim back because its branches encroach upon their property. The condo owners at 1402 Alki Ave. S.W. are certain they have the legal right, as 80 percent of the tree falls on the condo side of the property line.
But Stone thinks they'll hack the tree to death and won't negotiate a compromise.
She has posted "no trespassing" signs on the trunk of the tree, and another notice at the base asking anyone who witnesses someone harming the tree to call police. On Wednesday, supporters of Stone's cause began hanging white ribbons on the tree and asking others to do the same.
Arborists hired by the homeowners association say the fir will grow up to 100 feet tall, eclipsing the six-story condo building, buckling the sidewalk and possibly uprooting during a storm. The tree blocks part of the beach view from at least two of the condo's nine units.
"I'm sorry, but they should have thought about the tree blocking their view when they bought their condo," Stone said.
Conflict among property owners is nothing new to Alki, where blocks of funky bungalows have been supplanted by rows of upscale condominiums — a transformation that Stone has turned into a professional niche.
The Doug fir was well established when the condo building next to Stone's bungalow was built in 1996. Stone bought the bungalow in the late 1980s.
"I was here first," she said.
Stone said a tree specialist once told her that topping the fir or trimming its sides could result in disease. Noting that the condo owners are determined to trim in midsummer instead of waiting until it is cooler, she has concluded: "It will die and they don't care."
But Paul Anderson, a lawyer who owns one of the nine condo units, said the homeowners association has spent a lot of money consulting with four arborists and with attorneys versed in property law as it relates to trees.
"We have offered to have that tree removed and plant a more appropriate tree in its place," Anderson said. "We have offered to meet with her, but she refused. We have given her lawyer our arborists' reports and most of our legal research. We have endeavored to resolve this in an amicable fashion, but she told us if we touch the tree, she would sue us."
Common law in Washington holds that a property owner is entitled to trim a neighbor's encroaching tree, Anderson said. But if the tree dies as a result, the property owner can be held liable.
Anderson said arborists think the tree can be trimmed and stay alive.
"We're not going to trim as much as we could trim, although we're going to trim it quite a bit," he said.
He told Stone the trimming would not occur this week but won't tell her when.
"She has every opportunity to consult attorneys, gather up facts and understand the situation from her point of view," Anderson said. "But her point of view is 'don't touch my tree.' So if that's her only solution, that's not a solution for us."
Talking to attorneys
Stone said she is talking to attorneys to see if she has a legal case.
From the day the condo next door went up, Stone said, she has felt squeezed. "The condo took away so much of my light, so much of my sun."
She said she had to add more lighting inside her house, as well as put privacy coverings on her bathroom skylight and cope with the glare of the condo's garage lights.
"I'm the one who has made all the accommodations, but I adapted," Stone said. "They have to coexist with me, too."
She thinks now is the time for her neighbors — who are complaining that the tree blocks their light — to adapt.
A few buildings south of her flower houses, Stone is marketing nine new condos priced at $769,000 and up. In another building nearby, she has listed a ground-floor unit, promoting its "Beautiful Unblockable View!"
Stone, though, expresses no sympathy that her neighbors' view of Puget Sound is partially blocked by her tree.
"How much view do you need?" she asked.
The tree also blocks part of Stone's water view. But it shields her from the condo and provides shade to her deck.
Stone said if people see her position on the tree in conflict with her profession, well, so be it.
"I don't care," Stone said. "I'm also a private-property owner who likes certain things. And nature is one of those things."
Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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