Encroachment issues at root of problem

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Neighbors of Southwest 158th and 160th avenues explain changes along the developing Westside Trail corridor on Mount Williams that will affect what park district officials call encroachments onto public property.When Sean Wagoner bought his house on Southwest 160th Avenue last December, he assumed — as any new homeowner might — the pre-existing wooden privacy fence that rings the backyard was within his property’s bounds.

He was therefore stunned recently when a Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District official informed him the fence, in fact, encroaches a full 4 feet into park district property along the Mount Williams segment of the Westside Trail it’s developing. The district owns swaths of land on either side of the Bonneville Power Administration power line corridor, where work on the paved regional trail link is nearing completion.

“I bought the house with the fences up,” Wagoner said. “You don’t typically pay for a survey when you buy a house. The officer is saying it’s my responsibility to do the survey.”

Unless Wagoner — by hiring a surveyor at considerable cost — can prove the district wrong about the property line, he has just under a year to dismantle the fence section and underground irrigation system that allegedly encroach on public property.

“Now it’s going to cost thousands of dollars to take down the fence,” he said. “And I either give up on (my) bushes and trees or give them to the district.”

Wagoner is not alone in his frustration.

Several residents in the Burntwood neighborhood, whose yards back up to the corridor, are being told their various fences, gardens, storage sheds, woodpiles and debris — some of which have been in place for decades — must be removed. A handful of them gathered Monday at the home of Jo Ann and Bob Shepherd on 158th Avenue to express concerns about the recent crackdown.

House calls

Gery Keck, the district’s bond planning manager, sent letters to neighbors along both sides of the corridor informing them of the need to address encroachments.

Michael Janin, the district’s superintendent of security, is in charge of following up with visits to residents’ homes. He said his goal is to explain the encroachment, ask neighbors to comply within a year’s time and answer any questions.

“There have been (neighbors) on 158th and 160th who say they knew they were encroaching and knew it was a matter of time. I get that probably 98 percent of the time. It’s almost always a very good mutual meeting. I let them know I will answer any questions for them,” Janin said.

Some residents, however, said they’ve felt intimidated by Janin’s visits, especially when he’s accompanied by a security officer wearing a safety-equipment belt that more than one neighbor has mistaken for a firearm.

“I think it’s very inappropriate to send that person to your home,” said Chris Maguire, a resident on 158th Avenue working with neighbors on a compromise with the park district. “(Janin) is a former Beaverton police officer. He can be very intimidating.”

Taking ownership

While district officials aren’t armed, neighbors are still incredulous why, after all this time, the district is so dead-set on removing plantings, gardens and other forms of landscaping many of them say provide aesthetic improvements to the power-line corridor.

“Removal of plants is destructive and not cost effective, not only to the homeowner, but to the parks district,” Maguire wrote in a recent letter to district officials. “It is not wise to remove plants, then spend resources to replace or manage once plants are removed.”

He said he and his wife, Hilde, were told at a 2010 trail-planning meeting that what he called “extended yards” could remain in place.

“Many neighbors feel that we are being unfairly targeted when the (district) has not enforced the proposed conditions on other landowners,” Maguire wrote.

Maguire is among neighbors who claim Bonneville Power officials informally approved encroachments, provided they didn’t interfere with power line access. District officials, however, said THPRD — not Bonneville — has owned 125 feet on the corridor’s west side and 20 feet on its east flank since 1989.

“The land behind the Shepherds’ was donated to the park district by a developer in 1989,” Keck said. “It was owned by Dale Construction. On the west side, the same company donated the land in 1985.”

Regardless of whether the encroachments are based on a basic misunderstanding of property ownership or a sense of entitlement, district spokesman Bob Wayt said THPRD is obligated to protect its public land from private use.

“Some residents seem to think that just because they’ve been using the property for a long time makes it theirs, but it doesn’t. The land belongs to the public,” he said. “They wouldn’t occupy land that belongs to their neighbors. It doesn’t matter that some homeowners think they take better care of the property being encroached, the land does not belong to them.”

At the same time, the district does not proactively seek out property encroachments.

“We don’t send people out looking for encroached property,” he said. “In the course of our (trail maintenance) work, we do investigate. Residents are notified with a letter and (Janin) follows up with an in-person visit.”

Bob Shepherd, who has gardens and a wooden shed the district wants removed, said regardless of how long the district has owned the property, he’s not impressed with the district’s approach to the Westside Trail project.

“We were told this was going to be a nature trail, and it’s not. It’s a road,” he said. “We were told it would have minimal impact on us, and it hasn’t. It’s having a major impact.”

He would like to see THPRD representation at the West Beaverton Neighborhood Association Committee meeting on Nov. 8.

“We are hoping that they will listen to our concerns about property lines and a buffer between the road and our properties — more than they have up to this point.”

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