By Don Nelson
A trial date has been set in the legal dispute over a small cabin built on the crest of Flagg Mountain near Mazama that plaintiffs say violates property covenants meant to protect scenic views from the Methow Valley floor.
Okanogan County Superior Court Judge Chris Culp will handle the case in a non-jury trial scheduled to begin on Aug. 12. A mandatory settlement conference, at which the parties will explore the possibility of a pre-trial settlement, is scheduled for July 8.
If the trial proceeds, it will come nearly two years after the cabin — derisively referred to by critics who say it harms ridgeline views as the “hanging hut” — was built on a site that overlooks Mazama. The small building, which has no running water, electricity or septic system, was given a county building permit as a hunting cabin for use only 60 days a year. It is built on pylons that thrust the structure off the edge of the mountain.
The suit is being brought by former owners of the 10.5-acre site on which the cabin is built, who cite what they claim are binding covenants prohibiting any structure that compromises views from the valley floor.
On Jan. 14, Culp denied a motion by the defendants to dismiss the case. The defendants are the cabin’s Seattle-based owners James Dow, Tom and Jeannie Kundig, and Ben Rand. Kundig is an internationally acclaimed architect whose most visible project in the valley is the Rolling Huts Cabins development on Highway 20.
Culp dismissed the defendants’ assertion that the remaining plaintiffs, Steve and Kristin Devin of Mazama, do not have standing to bring suit. The Devins no longer own property adjacent to the controversial cabin, but did own and still own property with a direct view of Flagg Mountain at the time the protective covenants were written.
The lawsuit against the hut owners was filed in April 2013 by several of the covenant signers. Only the Devins remain as plaintiffs.
Covenants filed in 1987 by the Devins and the other original property owners on Flagg Mountain, stated, in part, that: “All improvements placed on the property shall be constructed with constraint and special sensitivity and consideration in order to minimize the visual impact of any such improvements on adjoining parcels and on all other lands, including lands located on the floor of the Methow Valley and all other lands which have a direct line of sight to the property.”
Culp’s most recent ruling concludes that “a genuine issue of material fact exists about whether the original [ownership] group intended that [the] Devins be a third-party beneficiary by virtue of their specific ownership in direct line of sight to Flagg Mountain.” On that basis, Culp dismissed the plaintiff’s request for a summary dismissal of the lawsuit.
“It’s amazing how much time and effort the hut owners have spent trying to kick this thing out of court,” said Steve Devin in a press release. “At last, we get to move on to the actual issue—the covenants and what we intended when we wrote them. Our intent was to protect the valley from structures on the hilltop. We knew there was a risk and that building on those properties could significantly impact the views.”
A nonprofit organization, Move the Hut, was formed last year to back a legal challenge to the cabin. It has raised about $30,000 in donations and matching contributions to fund the lawsuit. Seattle attorney David Bricklin of Bricklin & Newman is representing the plaintiffs. Wenatchee attorney Michelle Green of Jeffers, Danielson, Sonn & Alyward, represents the cabin’s owners.