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Originally published Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 12:08 AM

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Bellevue blocks attorney from occupying his new home

Bellevue homeowner Bill Weinstein is battling the city to move into a new home, but the city won't let him, saying that he overreached in construction, disturbing more of the land than allowed under city code, and that he needs to rip out landscaping and fix other problems. Weinstein sued the city in April.

Seattle Times Eastside reporter

If it were up to Bill Weinstein, he and his family would already be living in their 5,000-square-foot Bellevue home on the shores of Lake Washington. Coal Creek, the stream that runs adjacent to his home, would be thriving with salmon and more would hatch every year in an egg box fed by an artificial stream he had built just feet from his home.

The house has been ready for a year, but Bellevue has told Weinstein that he can't move in until he rips out landscaping and fixes other issues that Bellevue says violate city and land-use code. The city is threatening to fine him if he doesn't comply, according to an August letter.

"This just didn't happen in the dead of night," Weinstein said of his changes to the property. "It's ludicrous."

Weinstein, an attorney, is fighting back; he sued the city in U.S. District Court in April. A mediation hearing is set for today.

Weinstein has claimed that the city is retaliating against him because of disagreements over a 2004 court settlement with Bellevue about the creek.

But the city says in court documents that Weinstein disturbed 150 percent more land than permitted, or 10,000 square feet of property instead of the 4,000 allowed. He also failed to do mitigation required for disturbing wetlands on the property and did not maintain a flood-control berm required by the previous settlement, the city said.

Weinstein owns the two plots of land that surround the mouth of Coal Creek and has lived in an older house on the property with his family for 16 years. He bought the second plot of land in the early 2000s.

He said he has poured hundreds of hours and millions of dollars into building his home, which the county assessed in 2009 at $1.86 million. Weinstein said he has spent much more than that.

His work includes a water-filtration plant and sump pumps to feed the artificial stream that burbles next to the house. The stream also runs through a salmon egg box and into a holding pond, all of which Weinstein said the city approved with permits.

He also built a bridge over Coal Creek to connect his two plots of land and added logs, sandbags and other features at the creek's mouth, which he said create a deeper channel for salmon to swim and find shelter.

In August, the city ordered Weinstein to take out decking, slate walkways and landscaping along with electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems. The city also wants him to reduce the size of the pond and to install a fence.

"I'm trying to be as responsible as I can be," Weinstein said. "The city should work with me to make it better, not rip it all out."

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Occupancy permits are one of the main ways local governments enforce building codes and local regulations, said Tim Trohimovich, planning director for Futurewise, a nonprofit that works with local government on land-use and environmental issues.

Property owners typically only have to fix a few minor problems and don't wait more than a few weeks for a permit once the home is finished, he said.

"A year is very unusual," he said.

Weinstein argues in the lawsuit that Bellevue is retaliating by not giving him the permits needed to operate a salmon hatchery agreed to in the earlier settlement. The city contends in the court records that the settlement did not allow Weinstein to build a salmon hatchery. The agreement includes a reference to a salmon-habitat enhancement channel and approval for its design and construction.

A senior litigation attorney for the city declined to comment on the dispute.

The earlier settlement was reached after Weinstein, and his neighborhood community club, Newport Yacht Club, took Bellevue to court in 2003. They claimed the city was mismanaging stormwater and silt, and discharging sediment into Coal Creek and Lake Washington.

Sediment carried down Coal Creek fans out into Lake Washington and makes navigation difficult for boat owners who rent slips from the club's marina, said the club's lawyer Lawrence Kahn.

The city agreed to undertake projects that would help control flooding, erosion and sedimentation at Coal Creek Park as part of the settlement. The city also took over the 550-acre Coal Creek Park and 11-acre Surrey Downs from King County as part of the deal.

In this latest lawsuit, Weinstein and the club are claiming the city violated the settlement agreement to remove more sediment from Coal Creek. The city denies the allegations.

"We're residents of Bellevue," Kahn said. "It's not like we take joy in suing them. We want them to do what they promised to do under the settlement and let everyone move on."

Coal Creek has a few salmon in it, Weinstein said, but he wants it to thrive again and hired environmental experts to help him.

It's rare for an individual to build a private salmon hatchery, Trohimovich said, but there are a few.

Local governments get involved in regulating hatcheries because they are required to protect critical areas and shorelines, he said. Salmon hatcheries can have a major impact on water quality in streams and lakes and affect native salmon species.

Hatcheries are one of the reasons native salmon have been designated as threatened in the state, Trohimovich said.

Weinstein said he is working hard to create a renewable resource not just for wildlife, but for kids in the future.

"That's what's distressing is all these issues seem to have gotten lost along the line," he said.

Meanwhile, the fight with the city has kept things at a standstill.

"It may be five years before I can move in," he said.

Nicole Tsong: 206-464-2150 or ntsong@seattletimes.com

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