Debris from salvage business builds up in Salmon Creek neighborhood

By Jacques Von Lunen, Columbian staff writer

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The triangle immediately west of Interstate 5 and north of Salmon Creek is a nice neighborhood. Most front yards show off neatly arranged flower beds and manicured lawns.

But one property on Northeast 10th Avenue stands out -- and not in a good way, neighbors say.

As late as last week, broken furniture, scraps of metal and plastic buckets covered every inch of the front yard and the sidewalk at 12604 N.E. 10th Ave. Some days, cargo trailers and pickup trucks loaded with junk have blocked half of the street, neighbors say.

A county official said it's one of the worst nuisance properties he's seen in his career. Neighbors and the county's community development department have tried to get the property cleaned up for nearly two years. The efforts entered a final phase this week, with a June 25 deadline for cleanup looming before county officials could potentially foreclose on the property.

The property near the corner of Northeast 10th Avenue and Northeast 126th Street used to be just as pretty as those surrounding it, neighbors say. Property tax records list Thomas and Arlene Handley as the owners.

Thomas Handley died in July 2010, according to an obituary in The Columbian. As he was dying of cancer, his son, Ted, agreed to move back in the house to help his mother take care of him, Arlene Handley told The Columbian. Ted Handley cleans ship hulls at the docks and supplements that income by working as a scrapper, she said.

He first stored his scrap materials at another location, but had a camping trailer and materials stolen from there, Arlene Handley said. And so, more of his scrap started to show up on the quiet residential street in north Salmon Creek.

'Public nuisance'

Neighbors first officially complained about the debris piled up at the property in the fall of 2010. The initial complaint was filed under the "public nuisance" category, said Kevin Pridemore, code enforcement coordinator with the county's department for community development.

County records show how the piles of debris waxed and waned over the past two years and what was done to try to make them disappear.

The county sent Arlene Handley a postcard in November 2010, advising her to get rid of the broken-down car and other debris littering her property. After receiving a complaint, a code enforcement officer had paid a visit to the property and saw "in excess of 10 cubic yards of debris and one inoperable vehicle."

That was the first of nearly 40 inspections of the property.

The county regularly sent letters for the next several months. In April 2011, it issued a Notice and Order. If the property wasn't cleared within 10 days, the Handleys would have to pay a $100 fine for each day they were in violation of the code.

In July, the county sent the first letter of intent to file a lien on the property. A few weeks later, Arlene Handley called to say that the property was being cleaned up.

Then the county realized that Ted Handley was running a salvage business in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

"We would get a call that there was debris, we sent a letter, the debris was gone and then it'd show up again," Pridemore said. "We realized this is part of what they do, that it's the cycle of a business."

Last summer, the county went after the property owners for a zoning violation.

"Maybe we went after it in the wrong way for seven months," Pridemore said. "But the original complaint was for junk and debris under public nuisance."

Last August, he sent the Handleys another Notice and Order, this time telling them to cease operation of the salvage business at that location. Fines rose to $350 per day.

More complaints started coming in last summer, too. Neighbors were now calling the county at "a steady flow," Pridemore said.

For months, the pattern of letters, cleanup and new debris continued. The county filed several liens on the property, which in the end added up to more than $66,000.

Last month, an officer inspected the property and noted it "looked the worst it has looked since this case was opened," according to county documents.

Pridemore sent the case to the prosecuting attorney's office May 17. And the Handleys got one last chance before the county could potentially foreclose on the property to collect the accrued fines.

Arlene and Ted Handley signed an agreement with the prosecutor's office and with the court in late May. They agreed to bring the property up to code by June 25, pay $5,500 in monthly installments and not violate code again on the property. If they failed to come through on all counts, the court could authorize the county to collect its liens without any further lawsuit.

'Let's get it done'

The neighbors said they're largely satisfied with the way the county has handled the matter, especially with Pridemore, who they said has been keeping them up to date on all developments in the case.

Arlene Handley said she is grateful for the way Pridemore's office has worked with her.

"Kevin wants to get it resolved," said Monte Johnson, who lives near the property. "Let's get it done. I'd like to see it cleaned up."

Johnson walks his grandchildren down that street, he said. The blocked sidewalk and jagged debris are a nuisance to him.

Several neighbors voiced similar concerns, noting they have caught nails in car tires while passing the salvage yard that has crept up in their quiet neighborhood.

Pridemore said this enforcement case has been special in several ways.

"In 18 years of doing this I've never had a nicer group of complaining parties, especially considering how long they've put up with this," he said.

He also never saw this many complaining parties before. In most cases, two or three neighbors complain about someone's property, he said. Some 15 different people have filed complaints with the county in this case, Pridemore said.

And he said it's one of the worst nuisance properties he's seen in his career.

Pridemore ordered a dumpster to be put in front of the property at the owners' expense. And although things still looked pretty messy last week on 10th Avenue, Pridemore said he checked the property last week and that the cleanup was on pace.

Much of what now littered the front yard had been dragged out from the garage and the backyard in the course of throwing it away, Pridemore said.

"It's like when you clean out your closet, your living room gets messy," he said.

Jacques Von Lunen: 360-735-4515; jacques.vonlunen@columbian.com;http://www.twitter.com/col_schools.