Appeal of ‘hanging hut’ decision is expected
By Don Nelson
Okanogan County Superior Court Judge Chris Culp ruled last Wednesday (Oct. 15) that the so-called “hanging hut” built on Flagg Mountain near Mazama violates property covenants meant to protect views from the valley floor, and that “removal of the hut from its current location is the only remedy.”
The ruling is a victory for Mazama-area opponents of the small cabin, built in 2012 along the ridgeline of Flagg Mountain.
But the dispute may not be entirely settled. Seattle attorney Ralph Palumbo, who represents the cabin’s owners, said this week in an email that “we will definitely file an appeal.”
The suit was initially brought in 2013 by several former owners of the 10.5-acre site on which the cabin is built, who cited what they claim are binding covenants prohibiting any structure that compromises views from the valley floor.
After a series of courtroom skirmishes over who was eligible to bring suit, the remaining plaintiffs are Steve and Kristin Devin of Mazama.
The defendants are the cabin’s Seattle-based owners James Dow, Tom and Jeannie Kundig, and Ben Rand. Kundig is a world-renowned architect whose works include the Rolling Huts on Highway 20 between Winthrop and Mazama.
Culp’s 21-page decision goes into considerable detail about the history of the cabin and the applicable covenants, which were established in 1987, and refers to testimony offered during the recently concluded trial. The parties were not able to reach a settlement before or after the trial.
“Defendants violated the covenants by building the hut as and where they did … This [building the cabin on the ridgeline] was not an innocent act,” Culp said in his decision. “And for defendants to now say they would not have spent the money they did for the property and have to build on some other site is disingenuous. In fact, had they built on what Mr. Dow testified was their first choice of location … defendants would likely have avoided this lawsuit.”
A nonprofit organization, Move the Hut, was formed last year to back a legal challenge to the cabin.
“This is a win for our community of residents and visitors who saw the impact of the hut,” said Steve Devin in a press release from Move the Hut. “I’m very gratified that our rights to protect this ridge were recognized and that the court’s ruling upheld a private covenant placed on the property.”
‘Insensitive’ to goals
In his decision, Culp noted that the covenants were written “in a way that would preserve those things important to them: the aesthetic beauty of the valley and environmental considerations which make the Methow Valley what it is. […] the covenants were intended to protect both current parcel owners and property owners with a direct line of sight to Flagg Mountain.”
Culp, who toured the cabin site during the trial, said that “from plaintiff’s property, especially the Mazama Ranch House [which the Devins own], the hut cuts dramatically into the skyline. It does not attempt to blend with its surroundings: it is in stark and vivid contrast to anything around it. The hut could not have been built in manner more insensitive to the visual minimizing goals of the covenants.”
Bill Pope, of the Move the Hut community group, said in the press release that “Judge Culp got to the truth of what happened and the purpose of the covenants. He confirmed what most believed when looking at the hut. How could anyone believe it was ‘constructed with constraint and special sensitivity to minimize the visual impact’? We are extremely pleased that the court’s decision that the hut be moved means the beautiful ridgelines that frame Mazama will be preserved for all to enjoy forever.”
Palumbo, the defendants’ attorney, said that other than confirming an appeal is certain, “we are not commenting on the decision.”
It may be a while before an appeal emerges. A motion for entry of the judgment, based on Culp’s ruling, will be filed by the plaintiffs, and then the judge will review and formally enter the judgment, Pope said. After that, the defendants have 30 days to file an appeal.