Seattle neighbors fight uphill battle to maintain public Lake Washington access
On a beautiful sunny winter afternoon, a small crowd has gathered on Seattle’s Burke-Gilman trail overlooking a tiny beach leading to Lake Washington.
But after decades of wandering onto the beach or into the water in the Cedar Park Neighborhood of northeast Seattle at 130th St., now they can’t go any farther. Newly erected no trespassing signs stand in their way.
“Watching people’s reactions to these signs is anger and shock,” says longtime resident Sue Pope as she walks her dog along the trail.
The signs that appeared Monday are just the latest move by the owners of the two homes bordering the popular beach access to take over the property and keep the public out.
The land was deeded to King County in 1932 by the then-property owners. What was a street end was supposed to become public water access.
But the current property owners – one of whom is a land use lawyer – were able to convince a court the land was rightfully theirs.
The claim by Keith and Kay Holmquist and Frederick Kaseburg successfully argued the easement has been part of their property since King County vacated the street end back in 1932.
“The facts are simple,” says the lawsuit. “Under the law then and now, title to the platted street end was always in the adjoining owners of platted lots.”
King County Superior Court Judge Monica Benton agreed, ruling in favor of the property owners in 2013.
Sue’s husband, David Pope, was stunned, arguing the property owners clearly exploited a technicality. “It was kind of a way of rewriting history because if they would have known back then they would have protected it because everyone’s intention who was involved was to make this a community beach.”
The city and King County both fought the property owners in court but lost. The Supreme Court refused to consider an appeal.
Sandy Motzer with the Lake City Neighborhood Association and her husband live nearby and have frequented the beach for over 30 years.
She calls the property owners downright selfish.
“They already have waterfront access. A lot of people don’t. A lot of people who have learned to swim here, who kayak off of here, it’s a respite place,” says Mozer.
The city is considering what to do next. A spokesman for Mayor Ed Murray says his office is looking at possible options. That could include exercising eminent domain and taking the property in the name of the public good.
“They didn’t have any trouble going through eminent domain and condemning a parking lot downtown so this has to rise to a higher level than a parking lot downtown,” says Motzer.
If the city made that move, it would have to compensate the property owners. Neighbors are talking about trying to raise money to help offset the cost of acquiring and maintaining the land if the city goes ahead with eminent domain.
“We’re willing to put in hours and hours of volunteer work. We’re very passionate about it and we’re willing to do as much as we can,” says lifelong Cedar Park resident Mark Mendez.
In the meantime, Mendez and his neighbors are left to look angrily at the no trespassing signs keeping them from the water.
“They took it away from us. They stole it. The signs are an extra kick in the stomach to us,” says Mendez.
The property owners did not respond to multiple requests for comment.