City, trustee for developer reach deal on off-road area

Accord will remove dirt ramps, close area used as raceway




Is it all over for the wild-riding thrill seekers taking advantage of an unsupervised dirt track in east Vancouver? At least, city officials think so.

On late Wednesday, Vancouver attorneys reached an agreement with trustees overseeing undeveloped and previously unregulated land in east Vancouver to demolish large jumps that highlighted what one city councilman termed an “obstacle course” for off-road vehicles.

The mud-pitting motorcycle racing and four-wheeling that has caused headaches for residents in nearby neighborhoods for about a year will end— city officials say they believe and hope — with the demolition of the jumps starting today.

The agreement reached by city attorneys and a local trustee, who is managing properties for a Seattle developer involved in a massive bankruptcy and liquidation, allows for the demolition of the jumps and brings about a screeching, smoking end to a saga that earlier this week seemed miles from the finish line because of legal wrangling and the absence of no-trespassing signs.

The matter of what to do about the tract occupying several blocks near the 14300 block of Northeast Fourth Plain Road was brought to the attention of city Councilors Bart Hansen and Pat Campbell, as well as a host of others with the city of Vancouver, by frustrated neighbors such as James Roberts.

Roberts said he brought the activity to the city’s attention about a year ago. It was when more people started congregating on the site this summer that he pressed firmly on the throttle, determined to see something done. Roberts said he has counted as many as 24 off-road vehicles on the property on at least one occasion.

“When you get that many out there, it sounds like Washougal race track,” Roberts, who lives about two miles away in the Burnt Bridge Creek neighborhood, said before learning of the city’s plans to tear down the jumps. “It’s quite a playground.”

When he received news late Wednesday that the city had finally made progress with the representatives controlling the property, Roberts said, “Everybody’s really pleased they’re going to start knocking those piles down. Hopefully, it’s all resolved.”

As recently as midmorning Wednesday, city officials still seemed far from resolution. That’s because the Seattle developer who owns a controlling stake in Sifton Orchards LLC is embroiled in Washington’s largest-ever bankruptcy case, according to The Seattle Times.

Michael R. Mastro, a longtime real-estate developer and lender, was pushed into the bankruptcy nearly two years ago. He owes unsecured creditors about $325 million, the newspaper reported.

“When you’re dealing with a bankruptcy, especially one this big, it’s hard to get people to approve things,” Brent Boger, a Vancouver city attorney, said earlier this week. “It’s a little hard to get the attention of the people in charge.”

And yet, later Wednesday, Boger was able to get in touch with David Rinning, a bankruptcy trustee helping liquidate some of Mastro’s assets.

“We got agreement from the real-estate broker who’s representing the estate on their real-estate matters,” Boger said.

Nutter Corporation has been contracted by the city to tear down the jumps and place no-trespassing signs in an effort to keep off-roaders off the property. It will cost the city $3,000 that Boger said it will attempt to recoup through the renegotiation of a development agreement for the 90-acre parcel in 2003.

Boger said Rinning is informing the Vancouver Police Department that people riding motorcycles and hanging around the property are trespassers. That means the sometimes as many as 24 off-road vehicles Roberts and others have seen will have to find somewhere else to ride.

Roberts said he’s concerned, even without the jumps, that people will continue to use the land to race on the flat areas and ride four-wheelers through the mud.

Four companies, including Walmart, have stakes in the undeveloped plot. But the dirt piles causing much of the consternation are on 14 acres of land under the oversight of Rinning, who was hired by Jim Rigby, a Seattle attorney liquidating Mastro’s assets and distributing proceeds to creditors.

Five years ago, signs on the property went up announcing Walmart would be “coming soon.”

Development on the property came nearer to fruition in March, when the Vancouver City Council approved changes to road plans, allowing city planners to better negotiate with developers. That led city leaders to say Walmart could be coming sometime this summer, although the retail giant has not scheduled the store’s construction, nor a grand opening.

Others with stakes in the undeveloped properties that make up the raceway complex include Eastgate Plaza LLC and Birtcher Development Investments.

In total, four city offices worked to stifle what Hansen, a city councilor, called an “obstacle course.”

“Getting in touch with the trustees was difficult, but we finally got through,” he said.

Primary among Hansen’s concerns over the thrill-seeking activity on the property was safety, he said, adding that he had heard of at least one serious injury sustained by a rider.

“(City) staff did a great job on this … of being responsive to a safety issue,” Hansen said. “And a noise nuisance for the neighbors.”