New development planned for 45-acre site on Vashon's west side

Don Asher says the new development on Colvos Passage will include shared beach rights. - Leslie Brown/staff photo
Don Asher says the new development on Colvos Passage will include shared beach rights.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/staff photo

Two businessmen have purchased and begun prepping a 45-acre property on Vashon’s west side for development — a project, they say, that will preserve habitat and build community by setting aside 30 acres as commonly owned forestland.

The project, currently called Madrona West, would situate up to 16 houses in a wooded parcel perched above Colvos Passage and just off of the Westside Highway. The property, a topographically diverse parcel with second-growth Douglas firs, tall Western cedars and groves of red-barked madrones, already has a water right as well as a water system, a road, power lines and other infrastructure. It’s currently platted to allow for 23 houses.

Don Asher, who with business partner Robert Kendrick, owns the land, said he and Kendrick are working to build a kind of rural development that they believe has never been created in the United States. Working with Jones & Jones, a Seattle-based landscape and architecture firm known for its conservation-minded development, the two plan to build the houses on lots 1/2- to one-acre in size and grouped according to the property’s topography.

Each lot will be minimally developed, and each house will be built using the latest concepts in water conservation and low-impact development, Asher said. In between will be commonly held forestland laced with trails, a shared beach with picnic tables and kayak-storage and space for a large community garden.

“We’re consciously trying to create a community of like-minded individuals with common interests and values who want to live in a rural setting as a community and share community property,” Asher said.

The property was owned by Roy Johnson, a Seattle civil engineer who at one point owned 75 acres that he had hoped to plat for 128 homes. Johnson, Asher said, was anticipating a land rush on Vashon, once the so-called Cross-Sound Bridge connecting the Island to the mainland got built. He created the infrastructure that currently exists there, including a wide, dirt road that wends to the beach. He also secured a water right, now hard to come by in Washington, and laid out a water system, Asher said.

The property sat for several years after Johnson’s death in 1984. A few years ago, when his children decided to put it on the market, real estate agent Dick Bianchi approached Asher and Kendrick to see if they were interested in purchasing it. The two men bought the land in phases over the past two years for a little more than $1 million, according to King County records.

The property is likely the only parcel of this size left on Vashon that is ripe for development, according to Jean Bosch, a real estate agent who recently walked the land with Asher. “I don’t know of anyplace on Vashon that’s got all that infrastructure in place,” she said.

Jack Barbash, a neighbor, said his ideal is that the large parcel remain forested and undeveloped. The property was identified on King County’s “green map” as a parcel worth protecting. But given the inevitability of its development, Barbash added, he thinks Asher and Kendrick’s approach is the best he could hope for.

“On paper and from what (Asher) describes, they seem to be doing this with a great deal of sensitivity,” Barbash said.

Asher and Kendrick had several trees removed last year to make way for the development — more than Barbash said he was expecting. The two men had to take out more trees than they had planned because of extensive root rot, Asher said. Barbash said he’ll be curious to see if there’s much erosion as a result of the logging on the sloping parcel.

“To the extent that the soil remains intact and doesn’t wash out — that will be one of the indicators of success. .... Time will tell,” Barbash said.

The new development is adjacent to a parcel some on the Island consider a particularly special piece of land — 25 acres that were carefully stewarded over many years by Dwight and Nancy Norson, now held in a family trust.

Craig Norson, the couple’s son and a Seattle resident, said he and Asher spoke recently about the development.

“It does appear that they’re trying to do it in a very environmentally friendly way, which is encouraging, but beyond that I really don’t know very much,” Norson said.

During a walk across the land, Asher, who lives part-time on Vashon and part-time in Seattle, said he believes the project could provide a new model for rural residential developments. A typical approach would be to divide the property into large rural lots, put some of the houses right on the water and not have any shared forestland or open space, he said. Another approach, he said, would be to cluster the houses, so that neighbors are right next to each other.

His and Kendrick’s goal is to have the houses carefully situated, he said, so that each house has a feeling of being in the forest and that “when someone comes home at night, his headlights don’t shine into his neighbor’s master bedroom.” At the same time, Asher said, the development will include many shared amenities, and the forest and beach will be held in common by the homeowners.

“I think there are a lot of people who would to live in the woods ... and not be completely isolated,” he said.

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