MAZAMA — Owners say their new cabin on Flagg Mountain overlooking Mazama is only 850 square feet. A lawsuit filed in an effort to remove it says it’s more like 1,300 square feet.
By all accounts, the building is small.
But in the minds of those who live in the unincorporated town below it, the cabin that juts out from their otherwise untainted ridgeline is anything but tiny.
After months of trying to work out issues over the view of this new cabin with its owners — including a Seattle architect well-known for merging his structures with nature — the people who used to own the land are suing to try to force them to move it.
“The overhanging structure stands out in stark contrast to the natural surroundings and the negative visual impact is significant,” the lawsuit contends. Other than a wireless antenna and the Goat Peak lookout tower, it’s the only manmade structure visible on the ridgeline in the whole Mazama area.
“It’s like a boil sitting up there,” said Midge Cross, who looks out at the cabin from her livingroom window.
“It’s something none of us anticipated would ever happen in Mazama,” added Bill Pope, owner of the Mazama Country Inn. Mazama’s pristine ridgeline didn’t happen by mistake, he said. People have long recognized the value of their views, and protected them.
Filed in Okanogan County Superior Court last week, the lawsuit relies on protective covenants placed on the land in 1987 that require any construction to minimize the visual impacts to neighbors, those on the valley floor, and anyone with a direct line-of-sight to the land.
The property’s former owners — Steve and Kristen Devin, Lee and Teresa Miller, and John and Rayma Hayes — placed those restrictions on the land, and still live in the Methow Valley.
They’re suing James Dow, Benjamin Rand, and Tom and Jeannie Kundig, who bought the land in September 2011, and built the cabin last fall. Tom Kundig is a Seattle architect, originally from Spokane, his lawyer says, and one of the most renowned architects in the country.
A website for his firm, Olson Kundig Architects, claims “Kundig’s homes become part of their natural setting, never outshining nor being overshadowed.”
That’s just what he tried to do with this cabin, said his Seattle attorney, Ralph Palumbo.
A January letter from owner Jim Dow to the former owners explains, “Tom Kundig designed this cabin with the valley’s natural elements and respect for its ecology, wildlife, history and residents as a priority. His structure is intended to feel and act in the spirit of the valley’s traditions and history of agriculture, forestry and ranching.”
The letter also outlines the building’s “green” elements, from using wood from beetle-killed trees and recycled materials to relying on solar and wind energy, and a cistern to store water for fire control.
Palumbo said owners had hoped residents would wait to see the completed cabin before judging it. This spring, they are finishing the cabin’s exterior with a Japanese process called shou-sugi-ban, a traditional technique that will help it harmonize with its surroundings. “When that is completed, it won’t make the hut disappear, but it will blend,” Palumbo said.
His clients, he said, are upset that valley residents don’t like their cabin after they’ve taken such extraordinary efforts to make it fit.
Palumbo said the cabin was originally going to be placed further back on the property, but they moved it out to the edge to prevent it from being seen by two adjacent landowners.
“To have the hut moved back away from the face of the mountain, that’s something that we just are not in a position to do, because the concerns we have for our neighbors have to come before the concerns of the folks in the valley,” he said.
Cross said other than her new view of the hanging cabin, it’s the hypocrisy that bothers her most.
“Tom Kundig has, on more than one occasion, talked about how people should be subservient to their environment,” she said. “For him to talk that out of one side of his mouth, and then build this — it’s astonishing to me.”
Cross said in early discussions with the owners, residents offered to pay to have it moved back.
What’s sad, she said, is that the owners built something so out of character with the upper Methow Valley, it’s hard to envision them becoming part of the community. “They claim to love the Methow Valley, but clearly their actions don’t show that,” she said.
Pope said to him, it appears the owners did everything they could to make the cabin more obtrusive.
“It would have been very little for them to back up 150 feet, and still have an absolutely tremendous view,” he said. “It just seems really unjust for them to put up something that is only licensed to be used 60 days a year, but we have to look at it for 365.”
Pope helped start a website — movethehut.org — which includes news articles, correspondence between the owners and former owners, and a petition with nearly 350 signatures asking the owners to move it.
John Hayes, one of the former owners, said before they started construction, another former owner warned them that the cabin would violate the covenants they had placed on the land.
“The reason the valley floor was mentioned is, we all looked up at it. We all realized what the impact would be on different properties” if someone built there, he said.
Motions have not yet been filed, but the lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order to prevent the owners from continuing construction, and eventually a permanent injunction “compelling the defendants to remove the offending structure.”
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512