Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Part 3: My special neighbor Dale Shelton

Don't miss part 1 or part 2! or you can just skip it all and go directly to the results of the hearing

You can file a response to an anti-harassment order with the court; most people don't, but I did, and here's what I said in response to her complaint:
She wanted to keep my pig
"Ms. Shelton uses the county easement to cross over my land to reach hers.  Ms. Shelton has no right to post no trespassing signs on my property or the county right of way per SCC 13.60.050(5) and must maintain the county right of way she uses to access her property per SCC13.60.050(9).

The fence between our two properties has existed in its current location for decades, and I believe that I own that fence outright.  Ms Shelton does not have any information on property lines or corners and refuses to have her land surveyed or to walk the property lines with me; with survey in hand and corners staked and marked, I have a very good idea of where the property lines are.  Ms. Shelton apparently agrees with my survey as she references it in her pleadings. 

In the 6 months that I have been in this dispute with Ms. Shelton the best information I have is that she has made over 100 complaints, via telephone, email, forms filled out in person and calls to 911.  These complaints have been made various agencies, causing over 30 personal visits to my house and property by these agencies usually in groups of 2 to 6 staffers each visit.  Responding agencies include the Snohomish County Sheriff, the Snohomish County health department, the Snohomish county Animal Control, The Washington State Veterinarian and the Washington State Department of Ecology and others.  No citations, notice and order or any other enforcement action has resulted from any of these visits, but I have spent more than 180 hours dealing with requests for inspection and disclosure as each of these agencies investigated the complaints.

Ms. Shelton has complained that my animals had gotten out on many occasions to animal control, then complained to the sheriff that I was trespassing as I maintained or constructed fences in an effort to contain the animals, and on at least one occasion refused to return my livestock until I called the sheriff and had him advise her that I would press theft charges if she did not. 

It is a matter of common sense that when livestock are involved, no matter how good your fence or containment is there is always the possibility that it will escape; it is a fact of rural life on agriculturally zoned land and not an unusual or unexpected hazard.  Ms. Sheltons own animals have left her property, and in one case reportedly killed a neighbors dog and caused hundreds of dollars of damage which Ms. Strawder paid to repair.  

I cannot trespass on my own land.  I cannot be charged with destroying my own fence.  It is not harassment to object to Ms. Shelton posting signs on my property or removing those signs from my property.  Having a disagreement about a boundary line, the ownership of a fence, or the ability to traverse my own property or opened right of way does not constitute harassment, and none of those issues will be solved but making this temporary order permanent.  It will take a bad situation and make it worse.   

     Ms Shelton has consulted a private attorney and has the ability to resolve these issues via other means, such as her own survey, but has chosen courses of action to increase the conflict in any way what she can, all the while claiming that she is the victim, on fixed income, and helpless, and is using this and other forms of civil process or complaint in what appears to be a concerted course of conduct designed not to resolve this conflict but to inflame it and harm me.    

Dated this 27th day of February, 2014

Statement of Bruce King
"I purchased the property commonly known as 28611 139th avenue NE, closing on that purchase in approximately May of 2013.  I purchased this property from Union Bank out of foreclosure.  Union bank had received this property when the lender in first position, Frontier Bank, was closed by the FDIC.

  At time of foreclosure, this property was owned by Gary Strawder, the ex-husband of Ms. Shelton, and prior to that both the property that she resides in now, common address 28828 139th avenue NE and this property, 28611 139th avenue were both owned by the marital community of Dale Shelton and Gary Strawder.  Ms. Shelton has told me in the past that she was divorced in 2009, but at time of closing in 2013, Ms. Shelton had various belongings and animals on this property, and the first contact between myself and Ms. Shelton was when I contacted her and asked her if she wanted the items and animals she had here, and how much time she wanted to remove them.  At time of closing I had title to the property and everything on it, and this contact was a common courtesy not required by law. 

We agreed on two weeks, and she removed a variety of items and animals.  Another two weeks after that she returned and said that she had left potting soils and materials and asked if she could take cuttings from this property, and I allowed her to do so. 

As part of my purchase of this property I commissioned and duly registered a survey of the boundaries of the property in contemplation of fencing.  This survey work cost me $7,000.  Fencing is expensive and I wanted to place the fence at the proper locations so that I wouldn't have to move the fence or have disputes about property lines in the future.  It has been my experience when purchasing agricultural land that fences are often not built on property lines and that there are often disagreements about where boundaries are; a survey usually quickly resolves those issues, or at least gives me a pretty concise view of any issues.  The existing fences on my property were in poor condition when I closed this purchase.  My intention was to fence along the east side of the county right of way, and to place gates in either end of the fence, and a gate in the center.  This would allow me to avoid having to move the fence in the event of some activity in the right of way and to plant to the edge of my fields.  I figured that since the county right of way was platted I might as well use that area for access.

In addition, having gates allows me to retrieve animals that get out more quickly, allowing me to minimize any disruption caused.  It also allows the neighbors the ability to retrieve their livestock in the event that theirs wanders.  The fenceline between Ms. Sheltons and the Druchinins property is more than 1/3rd of a mile long.     
I contacted Ms. Shelton in May, and I asked her for the keys to gates that she had erected over the right of way.  I didn't mind her putting the gates up, but I wanted to be able to pass up and down the right of way without impediment when I needed to.  I explained my fencing plan to her, and told her that we would be completed in a couple of weeks. 

She objected to this, and said that I didn't have the right to use the right of way as I described, and after listening carefully, I told Ms. Shelton that I didn't agree with her, but could she provide some sort of backup that the right of way couldn't be used?  

Ms. Shelton called the county, and found Jan Newman, who is employed with the title of "right of way investigator III", at 425-388-3488, x 2290.  I called Ms. Newman, and in a discussion with Ms. Newman, she informed me that the right of way on 139th was formed by taking 20 feet of the parcels on either side, and that it was an easement, and not deeded county land.  She further said that the portions of that right of way that were unopened could be used by the landowners on either side for any purpose that they chose, including fencing, gating and any other use, up to and including the exclusive use and prevention of public access.  This with the understanding that if the county ever were to want to open the right of way that anything placed there might have to be removed at the landowners expense, Ms Newname stated that opening the right of way was unlikely to happen. 

I was surprised by this; it was different than my understanding of right of way.  I called Ms. Shelton back, told her that I agreed with her that the property owners on either side could use the right of way or prevent access, and that having learned that, I didn't need the keys to her gates.  I modified my fencing plan to meet this new understanding.  I would fence along the center of the right of way on areas of the right of way that had not been opened by the county or by permit, and in other areas I would fence inside of the existing fences, reasoning that I would not narrow or interfere with the existing decades-old fencing but I did need to construct fencing capable of retaining animals.  Over the course of the next 7 months I did that. 
I wrote a letter after our phone conversation summarizing our conversation, dated 7-16-2013 and mailed Ms Shelton a copy.  I wrote that letter because I wanted to have a record of what was said and have it be in writing.  My experience in dealing with Ms. Shelton is that she and I had different opinions on what was said in our conversations, sometimes only hours after they had occurred.  In that letter I requested that any further conversation she had with me regarding the fences be in writing.   

  My survey was performed by River City Land Services.  This survey was completed on 2-25-13, prior to close, and this survey is my primary source of information on where boundaries and easements are located.  I am not aware of any survey or authority that Ms. Shelton has on her property lines or corners, and in fact, she and I have no agreement on where our property lines are.  I rely on my survey and staked corners.  I don't know what she relies on. 

My property, 28611 139th is comprised of 4 tax parcels totalling 69.7 acres.  Two of these tax parcels, #s 32061600400400 and 32061600400300, have on their west side a county right-of-way.  139th avenue NE is built on this right-of-way, and the right-of-way continues north until it intersects the north fork of the stilliguamish river. 

Ms. Sheltons property is one parcel, #32061600300800, approximately 10 acres, and is located west of the county right of way, abutting it. 

The County right of way is formed by taking 20 feet from either side of the section line in this area.  Each property owner along this right-of-way maintains title to the land underneath this right of way; it is not deeded county land.  In a practical sense, that right of ownership is meaningless for this easement - since this right-of-way eventually touches water, the north fork of the Stilliguamish, the county is prohibited from vacating that land by the provisions of RCW 36.87.130, and I quote:
RCW 36.87.130
Vacation of roads abutting bodies of water prohibited unless for public purposes or industrial use.
No county shall vacate a county road or part thereof which abuts on a body of salt or freshwater unless the purpose of the vacation is to enable any public authority to acquire the vacated property for port purposes, boat moorage or launching sites, or for park, viewpoint, recreational, educational or other public purposes, or unless the property is zoned for industrial uses.

Opened county road segments can not be blocked or reserved for exclusive use except by permit, and generally for limited periods of time, typically by county permit and subject to various restrictions. 
On the east side of the centerline of this easement, the right-of-way is owned by the property owner to the east.  On the west side by the property owner to the west.  The 139th easement runs north-south. 
In front of my house there is a sign that reads "End of county road", which indicates that it is the end of the maintained county road.  Ms. Shelton uses a portion of that easement north of that sign to access her property.  The section of the county road south of that sign is considered "opened right of way" by virtue of being an improved county road.

Ms. Sheltons property does not contact the maintained portion of the county road.  The distance between the "end of county road" sign and Ms. Sheltons property is hundreds of feet.  The west side of this segment of the easement is owned by Vasily Druchinin, the property owner to the west.  The east side is owned by Myself, until we reach Ms. Sheltons parcel.  There the ownership of the west side of the right of way is Ms. Shelton, and the east side is myself, and that ownership pattern continues until the right of way intersects the North Fork of the Stilliguamish river. 

That section of Ms. Sheltons driveway north of the "end of county road sign" meanders and uses a portion of both Mr. Druchinins land and my own land.  The county electrical and telephone poles were placed in random positions along this driveway, and in order to use this any traveler has to avoid the telephone poles and guy wires used to secure them.  No portion of Ms. Sheltons access along this path is solely on Mr. Druchinins or my own property. 

Ms. Shelton crosses the Druchinin land and my own land via a "trail permit", a D4 level permit, issued by the county.  This permit allows the opening of otherwise unopened county right-of-way for use in accessing parcels that have no other access available.  This permit is issued conditional to the landowner improving the right-of-way to various county standards, usually by grading or adding gravel or ditches or other amenities. 
Trail permits are regulated by SCC title 13, roads and bridges.  A trail permit opens the right of way to the general public and is non-exclusive to the permit holder.  I quote:
SCC 13.60.050 (5)
The issuance of a type D3 or D4 permit does not diminish the public ownership of the right-of-way or grant any exclusive privileges to the permitee.  No permitee using county right-of-way pursuant to a type D3 or D4 permit will prevent or restrict simultaneous use of the right-of-way by the general public, except where the prevention or restriction of public use is expressly approved by the engineer because the permittee's use creates a hazard to the public

Ms Shelton has repeatedly stated to me that she is a holder of a trail permit, both in person and via her attorney Mr. Duskin, and Mr. Duskin has provided copies of documents to me that he purports to support this view but has yet to produce the permit to me.    

I haven't seen this permit but i'm willing to believe that it does exist.  With this permit, Ms. Shelton has the right to cross my and Mr. Druchinins land to access her property along the county right-of-way, but has no right to restrict myself, Mr. Druchinin or any member of the general public who wishes to from using that opened right of way for the entire length of the opened area, from the "end of county road" sign all the way up to the end of the improved sectin, where my gate is installed.  She references my gate as "...a 16' gate directly accross from the entrance to my home" in her statement in support of this order.  Ms. Shelton also has the responsibility of improving and maintaining that access road in the right of way per SCC 13.60.050(9) as long as she holds that permit.  Ms. Shelton has no right to restrict access to this right-of-way due to concerns about damage to the roadway, but must instead maintain it at her expense no matter who causes wear-and-tear due to normal use.  Tractors and agricultural access uses are normal uses in this zoning.  This is explicitly discussed in the statute governing this permit.    

She does not have the right to post no trespassing signs or restrict access to anyone from the "end of county road" sign to her property line.  That segment of the right have way has been "opened" by this permit.  She also does not have my permission to post signs or restrict access on my property, on the east side of the right of way.  In addition, I have the permission of Mr. Druchinin to cross or traverse the west side of the right of way.

  I have written 2 letters and asked her in person 3 times in the last 6 months to remove the signs and stop telling people that she will press trespass charges and after six months finally removed the signs in her presence, walked to her property line and said "You can't post the signs where you had them.  but if you want to post signs, this is where they go" and indicated the property line to her. Two hours later two sheriffs deputies were at my door and explained that Ms. Shelton had asked them to press criminal trespass charges or property destruction against me.  I explained what I had done, showed them my stamped survey copy that shows the fence and property lines, and two hours later dale was tacking the signs back up where she had placed them before. 

 It was this latest incident that she recounts in her statement supporting this order. 

I asked the deputies that night how many times Ms. Shelton had called, and they shrugged and told me that they had honestly lost count.  I have submitted public disclosure requests for the 911 call recordings, incident numbers, incident reports and other information from all of the responding agencies and am waiting for the response now.  My best information is that the total number of complaints entered is in excess of 100, and may be as high as 500, somewhere between one and three calls per day, every day, for 6 months. 

The complaints don't seem to serve a constructive purpose.  An example is the pig incident that she refers to in her statement.  "His pig was in my pasture Oct 11th looking for a place to have babies.  Animal control and the sheriff wouldn't help or respond, so my grandaughter and I had to herd the pig back to bruces [property]"
On the day this incident happened I was working on the fence about 200' from her front door, in sight of her sitting on her front porch.  I received a call from Officer Davis of the Snohomish County Animal control, informing me that he had recieved a complaint from Ms. Shelton and that Ms. Shelton had asked him to confiscate my pig.  He asked Ms. Shelton to call me, and she refused, instead insisting that my pig get confiscated and transported.  He told me where the pig was, and I said that I would go get the pig.  I set down my tools, walked up the county right of way, and knocked on her front door.  I then stepped back off her front porch, and got my cell phone out to record the interaction that followed.  I didn't want any controversy about what was said.  I told her that I understood that she'd called to have a pig removed from her property, and I was there to do it.  She told me I was trespassing, and to get off her property.  I said that I didn't want to be there, but I was there to remove the pig.  Would she let me get my pig?  No.  Get off my property, you're trespassing.  Just to make sure I had heard her right, I asked "so you're saying you will not allow me to get my pig?" and she agreed, and I turned and left her property. 

I called officer Davis back, who advised me to call the Responding deputy.  The deputy advised me that I could press theft charges if I wished under RCW 9A.56.083 - a class C felony.  I declined, stating that I was just interested in getting my pig back, and asked the deputy to talk to Ms. Shelton.  That deputy told Ms. Shelton that he strongly advised her to return my pig.   At that point she agreed to herd the pig to the property line and I retrieved it.

Whatever issue Ms. Shelton had wasn't with the pig being on her property; given the opportunity to remove the pig, she refused, instead preferring to escalate the situation into a confrontation with me, and causing both the animal control and the county sheriff to have to respond to resolve this issue. When the pig returned to Ms. Sheltons pasture to have her piglets, she kept the pig on her property for several days and I had to schedule a time with both her and Officer Davis to retrieve the pig and her piglets. 

Ms. Shelton complains that my animals are out.  She complains when I construct or maintain fences to contain the animals.  She complains that I don't feed my animals.  She complains that I feed my animals incorrectly.  She complains my animals don't have water.  She complains that I am keeping animals in a wetland.  In fact the volume of complaints is so large that at this point I'm pretty sure that I can do nothing at all to satisfy this woman, and so I have given up trying to appease her. 

She even complains when I go to get my animals when they're out; in her complaint she states that I was trespassing when I went to retrieve cows that were out.  What would Ms. Shelton have me do instead?  Does she propose that if an animal ever gets out that I make no attempt to retrieve it?  Would the same rules apply to her livestock in the event that they got out?

Ms Shelton has made the bulk of those complaints to agencies, but she has also parked her car in my driveway and honked her horn until I came out of the house to see what was going on.  She's written me letters, she's confronted me in person, she's hired an attorney and had him call and write me. 

  She has threatened to press trespass charges on me, or on my employees when they are working on my land, or on fences I own and has interfered with my farming practices and occupation.    

This no-contact order has prevented me from completing a segment of fence, has prevented me from tilling approximately 5 acres of land for 2 weeks despite the need to plant on a tight schedule to give the crops the best chance of success.  This course of conduct by Ms. Shelton has been extremely annoying to me.  I believe that there is harassment going on here, but it's not Ms. Shelton who is being harassed. 

Ms Shelton claims ownership of the fence that divides our two properties, and uses that claim of ownership to assert that I have "destroyed her pasture fence" in her statement.  That fence starts at a point near the "end of county road" sign, on my property, on the east side of the county road easement, runs 400' or so along my property before getting to the corner of Ms. Sheltons land, and then continues another 1100' to near the bank of the Stilliguamish river.  She has claimed that the fence was constructed by her in 2009, from materials she purchased.

  I have aerial photos of that fence from every year back at least to 1990, and previous owners of this farm state that the fence was first constructed in either 1965 or 1968, accounts vary.  She has asserted that the fence is the "boundary fence", and i've offered to do a boundary line agreement to make that fence the legal boundary -- and she's refused.  Only after examining my survey did she notice that the fence wasn't on the property line, but approximately 17' west of the center of the county right of way at its northern extent, and this has made her very unhappy. 

This fence was constructed decades before either she or I owned these properties, and probably for the benefit of my property.  My property has been a commercial dairy since 1935 and has had hundreds of cows on it for most of that time.  Since there were more animals and sections of the fence were constructed to control land that she does not own, and the fence shows up on historical photos in its present position, I believe that it's probably my fence.  She may have constructed fencing in 2009 somewhere, but if anything was done it was probably to renovate the existing fence - removing barbed wire and replacing it with field fence, for instance.  The current fence and historical fence show identical curvature and placement between existing trees.  A newly constructed fence would probably have been done on the property line, or at least straight.  "

 end of Declaration by Bruce King

1 comment:

Joanne said...

Wow. Looks like you have your work cut out for you. I have a relative who's like your neighbor, so I feel your pain and you have my sympathies. Best of luck to you.