A local park across the street from my house has been sold illegally to developers and I need lots of help to get the word out and to the proper people. Here is a full recap on the matter...
A blog has been posted here. I would really really appreciate if you could send this out to anyone you know. Thanks so much!A Precedent Setting Tragedy is Being Set for Small Town Parks in WashingtonState?
Van Eaton Park, an open space park in the town of Eatonville, Washington with a spectacular view of Mount Rainier, has recently been sold by the town to a developer for the purpose of building houses on the land. Van Eaton Park is a very environmentally sensitive area and deserves protection. A town does not have the statutory authority to sell a park. This is breach of the public trust. This happened after the town government, led by Mayor Bruce Rath, who had been a business partner of one of the developers, got the park declared surplus. Rath then brokered a deal to sell it. Many town residents spoke against this sale of Van Eaton Park along with a petition to save the park. The town completely ignored the residents and sold it anyway. This brings to light many important questions. How could this happen? How can a town act illegally without consequences? What message is this sending to other small towns in Washington? What are the environmental impacts? Will any town be able to sell a park any time the town government feels they need money?
Van Eaton Park was located on land donated by TC Van Eaton, town founder, for the purpose of a park. Van Eaton Park was set aside as open space many decades ago because it has significantly steep slopes, is considered a hazardous landslide and erosion area, has multi layered soil, and underground springs with water seepage areas. It has served as a wild life corridor and provides habitat for deer and small animals. Eagles and hawks have also been seen feeding in the park. There was also a walking trail around the lower side of the park.
In the past, this park was zoned community service. However, in 1994, the town planner, Mart Kask, recommended that the community service zone be eliminated allowing parks and schools as a permitted use in the underlying zone. The park then defaulted to the surrounding single family residential zone. In 2003 Harold Parnell the town mayor had a stroke and a town council member, Rath, was appointed as mayor for the remainder of the term. Unfortunately, this un-elected mayor was a developer and his agenda was to “streamline” the process for allowing development in the town. To this end, several projects were allowed to be developed with out environmental safeguards. Environmental laws and protections are only given lip service by the Town of Eatonville. The environmental impacts have been largely ignored.
To raise money for the town coffers, the Mayor Rath decided to sell Van Eaton Park, arguing that since the land was “only” open space and it was not really a park due to its underlying single family zoning. Rath advocated it could therefore be declared surplus. The park was subsequently sold to a former business partner of Mayor Rath for homes. In WashingtonState, the laws governing a town differ significantly from laws governing a city. A town only has limited authority. What a town can do is specifically defined by the state. Selling a park is not one of them and to do so is outside the town’s authority. Community members fought this in court. They asked for an injunction to stop the sale. Pierce County Superior court Judge Armijo denied the request. Later Judge Armijo dismissed the case and ruled that since the park didn’t have playground equipment, it was not a park. His decision was appealed and Armijo was overturned. The appellate court ruled that Van Eaton Park was indeed a park. The ruling sent the case back to Armijo’s court to decide whether a town had the authority to sell the park. The town and developers then had to find a way to keep a trial from happening to avoid almost certain defeat in court. The lawyers for the developer filed for a dismissal on a technicality. This motion was brought before Judge Armijo, who quickly dismissed the case. An hour prior to the start of the hearing (3-16-2007), the developers had their machinery on site. Another appeal is still undecided because of the cost. This case may never make it to court.
Throughout this process the Town of Eatonville has done everything they can to assist the developer. The town vacated the alley in the middle of the park which allowed the developer to reconfigure the lots to increase density. This also allowed the developers to circumvent some of the town’s own environmental regulations. Government oversight of the project is virtually non existent. The town acts like an agent for the developers and had waived most of the expected safeguards and mitigation. The human safety issues seem of little concern.
So what does this mean for other towns in WashingtonState? Does this mean a town can sell a park illegally without consequences? Can a town the can circumvent environmental safeguards at will without penalty? This is clearly a breach of the public trust! Is this the type of precedent we want to set? If not, then we need to work together to challenge the corrupt town government to let them know that there are laws and they must obey them. The State of Washington does have final oversight of a town. We must strongly encourage the state to take action.
Town of Eatonville
Mayor, Tom Smallwood
Former mayor and current council member,
DN properties LLC, this is a joint venture owned by
10618 SE Kent Kangley Rd
Jerry Nybo Construction
PO Box 1455
WA State Auditor
WA State Attorney General