New location could resolve legal battle
By Don Nelson
The owners of a small cabin on Flagg Mountain near Mazama apparently have begun the process of moving the structure to a nearby site from which it won’t be visible from the valley floor, according to communications provided to the Methow Valley News this week.
Moving the cabin would seem to resolve a lawsuit over its location, and perhaps assuage Mazama-area residents who have been unhappy that the so-called “hanging hut” can be seen from much of the upper Methow Valley.
According to a Sept. 14 email from one of the cabin’s owners, a new foundation has been excavated and other preparations are underway to begin moving the cabin in mid-October. The email was sent to the cabin owners’ Seattle attorney, Ralph Palumbo, and copied to David Bricklin, the Seattle attorney who represented former owners of the cabin’s site in a lawsuit alleging that the structure violated private covenants prohibiting any building that would be visible from the valley floor. A member of Move the Hut, a nonprofit organization formed in 2013 to back a legal challenge to the cabin, forwarded the email to the News.
Calls to Palumbo and Bricklin on Tuesday (Sept. 22) were not returned.
The cabin has been controversial since it was built about three years ago on the ridgeline of Flagg Mountain.
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 were Steve and Kristin Devin of Mazama.
The defendants were the cabin’s Seattle-based owners James Dow, Tom and Jeannie Kundig, and Ben Rand. Tom Kundig is a world-renowned architect whose works include the Rolling Huts on Highway 20 between Winthrop and Mazama.
In a ruling last October, Okanogan County Superior Court Judge Chris Culp agreed that the cabin violates the property covenants and that “removal of the hut from its current location is the only remedy.”
Palumbo said at the time that his clients would likely appeal Culp’s ruling. But rumors have been circulating that the two sides in the dispute were still hoping to reach a resolution that could involve the cabin’s owners purchasing some nearby property.
Culp’s 21-page decision went 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 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. 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.”
The owners had obtained a legal building permit from Okanogan County. At the time, they described the structure as a hunting cabin that would be used a maximum of 60 days a year. The cabin has no running water, electricity or septic system. It is built on pylons that thrust the structure off the edge of the mountain, where it is easily visible from many points in the Mazama area.