Views: Disputes Often Come With Pricey Property
In View Ridge, neighbors love gazing out at Lake Washington so much that when too-tall home remodels threatened to block views, folks formed a committee to review new construction projects and try to come up with compromises.
People love seeing Puget Sound so much in Olympic Manor they chopped down some towering trees that marred their views.
In Laurelhurst, residents are so fond of the view that bad feelings and defensiveness linger years after blackberry brambles gave way to two massive view-blocking homes.
From one part of town to another, Seattle residents love a good view and will go to just about any length to preserve - or gain - that soothing glimpse of blue sky, placid water or rugged mountains. Precious - but not safeguarded by city law - views have caused ill will among neighbors and, in some areas, torn the community fabric.
Part of the problem is property value. Homes with views are pricier and homeowners pay hefty taxes. There is a way to get the assessed value reduced if views are blocked - through appeals of the tax assessment, but many don't know that and few pursue their appeals.
There's talk now of the city lowering height limitations in single-family zones, but one View Ridge resident - who preaches the power of mediation - thinks it will take more than that.
The city should help feuding neighbors find common ground, said Len Mandelbaum, with the goal being to safeguard the character of the neighborhood while eliminating some infringements on view and so-called solar-access rights.
Mandelbaum, who teaches conflict resolution at Seattle University, was one of those who thought mediation might work in View Ridge, where more and more homeowners - pinched by soaring housing costs - are plowing dollars into their existing homes instead of buying new ones. Some remodels are modest, others monstrous.
Mike Gannon, chairman of the mediation committee, said that unfortunately, early efforts have so far not led to results neighbors wanted.
The committee has had two strikeouts so far, because remodeling homeowners have been reluctant to scale back their designs to keep their neighbors happy.
Debra and Mark Raden added a second story to their small View Ridge home in a recent remodel that - luckily - doesn't cut off neighbors' views and gives the home plenty of windows.
"I need a view," said Mark Raden, who grew up with a view in Hawthorne Hills. "You wake up in the morning and know what the weather is like. You see what's going on."
Not far away, there is push and shove as people try to preserve, improve or create views.
Frank Liburdy of Laurelhurst is the third generation in his family to live in a home that peers across Lake Washington. When his grandparents died, his parents sold the sturdy brick house to him.
But construction of two homes across the street wiped out much of the home's sweeping view.
On land that's now vacant and up for sale, a third new home will be built. When that happens, Liburdy says he can kiss his view goodbye.
There is frustration in Liburdy's voice when he talks about the new high-pitched roof of the two fancy homes that cut into his view at Laurelhurst.
"They've needlessly obstructed some of the view because of the architectural design," he said.
Art Brueggeman, who owns one of the homes, said it blocks less of his neighbors' view than it otherwise might because it is on a slope rather than flat land. A sharply pitched roof is in keeping with the style of homes in Laurelhurst.
"I want to be as good a neighbor as I can be," Brueggeman said. "But the truth is they would have been happy if nothing was built there."
Across town, at Olympic Manor, north of Ballard, residents who felt their views of Puget Sound were disrupted by trees either topped or eliminated the "offenders." To move into the northwest Seattle neighborhood, many signed deeds with covenants that protected views.
Richard Henning led a committee that got rid of trees taller than Olympic Manor homes. Of 34 homeowners throughout Olympic Manor, all but three agreed to remove, trim or top the trees, said Henning, 76.
Henning says this now of his relatively unobstructed view of Puget Sound: "You look at that scene, changing all day long, the barges and boats go to Alaska, Korea, Japan.
"When you get to be 80 or 90 . . . that's your whole life. You can't travel any more. When someone says they're going to put a tree in front of your view window, that's pretty catastrophic."
But to some people, trees are just as valuable - if not more so - than views.
Jean and Wesley Decker hired an attorney to safeguard a half-dozen trees on their Olympic Manor lot, arguing that covenants for their division expired in 1975.
"You go through here, it looks like a defense project because there are no trees," Jean Decker said.
Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.