Vashon contractor blows whistle on Parks' Baldwin House work

The Belle Baldwin House after the park district’s clearing work at the site. - Leslie Brown/staff photo
The Belle Baldwin House after the park district’s clearing work at the site.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/staff photo

The Vashon Park District failed to get a grading and clearing permit prior to some of its extensive work upgrading the historic Belle Baldwin House at Fern Cove, according to King County officials.

The park district also did not have an erosion control barrier to protect Baldwin Creek until a county official came to the site and pointed out to park officials the need to have a barrier in place, said Sheryl Lux, a code enforcement officer for the county’s Department of Development and Environmental Services.

“It could have been quite serious,” she said. “This is right on the beach.”

Lux, however, said the park district got on top of the situation quickly. Park district staff put erosion controls in place the day she came out, she said; they’ve also now obtained a permit and are working with the county on a restoration plan for the site.

“If they do the replanting plan the way it sounds, if they follow through with that, I actually feel the site will be in pretty good condition,” Lux said.

Wendy Braicks, the park district’s executive director, said the lack of a permit was an oversight that the staff quickly addressed. Though called a grading and clearing permit, she noted, the park district’s work on the landscaping around the home has mostly focused on clearing invasive plants from the property.

“Everything was done with the best management of the park in mind,” she said.

The park district started its $140,000 remodel of the historic home — also known as the Rose Cottage because of the wild roses that once adorned it — several months ago in an effort to transform the secluded, waterfront house into a vacation rental.

Now complete, the home is already booked until mid-September. Renovation costs are expected to be covered within a matter of years, according to a business plan Braicks drew up for the project, thanks to a rental rate of $1,200 a week during the summer months.

Supporters say the project makes sense and has been handled well by the park district, which undertook a similar project at Point Robinson last year.

“I really applaud them for putting resources into restoring the house and finding a new use for it as a rental,” Holly Taylor, a historic preservation consultant, said in an e-mail.

Tom Dean, the director of the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust, said his organization is working closely with the park district on the overall restoration of the Fern Cove Preserve, a property the land trust will soon manage as a result of an agreement between the land trust and the park district.

The two organizations have worked together for the past three years removing ivy, a project that’s almost complete. As a result, Dean said, Fern Cove is nearly completely ivy-free, a milestone on Vashon, where ivy is destroying some forests.

“The park district has been a good steward of Fern Cove in general,” he said.

But some are troubled by the agency’s failure to get a permit. David Hall, an Island contractor, reported the violation to county officials after he stopped to check out the project on his way home from work one afternoon.

“Red flags started going off for me as a licensed contractor familiar with this kind of work,” he said.

Fern Cove is in what’s called a critical area, a county designation due to its proximity to Puget Sound and the two creeks that transect the property. But Hall said he was troubled to see that the park district had used a makeshift bridge to drive over one of the creeks and that it had cleared land without a permit.

“A more sensitive approach to the land and the environment could have been taken there,” he said.

Dean said the land trust is helping the park district to restore the site.

“The damage that was done was not permanent,” he said. “We’re confident things will be fully restored.”

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