By Don Nelson
We can stop calling it the “hanging hut.”
Just as the first serious snow of the season began to pile up, the unassuming little cabin retreated from the brow of Flagg Mountain this week as if it were going into hibernation for the winter.
It won’t re-emerge in the spring. The cabin is being moved — with what looks like a great deal of technical ingenuity and engineering effort — farther back on the lot it has occupied since 2012.
A lawsuit 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 said 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 suit was supported by Move the Hut, a nonprofit organization formed in 2013 to back a legal challenge to the cabin.
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 an October 2014 ruling, 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.” The owners initially appealed that decision, but then agreed instead to relocate the cabin to a less-visible site.
Indeed, the cabin will no longer be as readily visible from the floor of the upper Methow Valley, although it will, perhaps ironically, still be seen from the home of the plaintiffs who ultimately carried the legal challenge to the cabin’s location through the process. Not a problem.
“It’s a way better location for us and the community,” Steve Devin said a few days ago. “It’s a lot less visible, and we’re comfortable with that.”
Devin had nothing but positive things to say about the owners’ efforts to relocate the cabin.
“They have been working with us and the community,” he said. “They’ve been cooperative and sensitive to the community.”
Some will say that a little more sensitivity three years ago would have avoided a lot of hassle for all concerned. But that’s water under the Weeman Bridge now, and the Methow isn’t the kind of place that likes to publicly nurse a grudge. We’ve weathered some rancorous controversies, and the scars usually heal.
Devin is harboring no hard feelings and is ready to move on.
“I’ve been talking with [co-owner] Jim Dow a lot,” he said. “He’s been positive and amicable. I look forward to him being a friend.”
Most of the people I’ve talked to about the cabin are also pleased with the outcome. Others have maintained from the outset that the owners were entitled to build where they chose as long as they didn’t violate any zoning laws. And they did not; the county issued a perfectly valid building permit. It was the original property use covenants, personal agreements which can be legally enforceable, that provided a means to challenge the hut’s placement.
The greater curiosity now is, how did they do it? The cabin was firmly attached and dramatically extended out over the profile of Flagg Mountain on sturdy foundations, which led to the unflattering nickname. I’m one of those who is interested in what it took to plan for and execute the move. Pictures taken on the site and provided to us by some Mazama-area residents indicate that it was quite the project. It would be fascinating to know the details.
However else you feel about it, the owners did respond to the community and, at their own expense, found a way to keep the cabin on its lot and out of most other folks’ view. The neighborly thing to do now is to acknowledge that and be grateful for a resolution that came out of more discussion and less legal wrangling.