Hazel Dell couple buy property to halt subdivision from being built

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Hazel Dell resident Darrel Santesson was as outraged as the rest of his neighbors when a developer proposed wedging 10 homes on a 1 ½-acre lot just across the street.

Santesson and his wife, Norma, ultimately figured there was only one sure-fire way to protect the property: by purchasing it themselves.

“We bought it to keep the neighborhood as it was for the last 36 years,” he said.

At the time it was proposed, the Blue Jay’s Glen subdivision came to symbolize the delicate balance between maintaining neighborhood character and corralling urban sprawl in what was then a fast-growing county. But neighbors complained that the postage stamp-size lots would eradicate trees, worsen stormwater runoff and generally undermine the area’s historically rural feel.

That was six years ago.

A county hearings examiner subsequently ordered former landowners Barbara and Lester Gienger, who had proposed the infill development, to build a more expensive underground stormwater detention system. Although neighbors still weren’t entirely pleased, the ruling came just as the county’s overheated housing market was beginning to cool off.

The subdivision languished, but neighbors remained wary.

“There was always a chance that somebody would come in and buy it with the idea of developing it,” said Kate Peal, a neighbor who also serves on the board of the Northeast Hazel Dell Neighborhood Association.

Peal said neighbors didn’t believe the tract would hold much appeal for savvy developers, who would have balked at the tight confines and the county’s requirements. Instead, she worried about a less-sophisticated developer clear-cutting the little forest and then running out of money before building any houses.

In October, the Santessons officially closed off that possibility.

They paid $335,700 for the 1½-acre parcel where the subdivision was proposed, plus an adjoining 1-acre property that included an existing house and detached shop. That was a deal compared with the previous sale price for the same property: $500,000 in August 2004.

The couple are renting out the house, which is just across 25th Avenue from the home they’ve lived in since 1974.

Darrel Santesson, 67, said they’ve repainted, repaired and redone portions of the house while getting it ready to lease. Now they like it so much that they plan to move across the street and retire there in two or three years.

In time, he said, they may even try a subdivision of their own — but with two or three houses rather than 10.

“I didn’t do this to be a martyr or anything,” he said. “But I didn’t want to see the neighborhood go to hell.”