A months long battle between the City of Chewelah and trailer park owners Tim and Patti Kaiser has now moved in to Stevens County Superior Court, with both sides claiming ownership of land that has been used by the Kaisers and their predecessors for over a decade, according to documents filed with the court last month.
The property in question is adjacent to the Kaisers’ trailer park on Alm Lane and sits near Chewelah’s south city limit.
The city claims in its suit that the Kaisers have encroached with landscaping and a dumpster pad on a small piece of land near the northwest corner of the trailer park – part of which is fenced and contains an electrical substation — as well as on a undeveloped street right of way with trailers on the north end of the park.
The city discovered their ownership of the land after a survey was completed last September and City Administrator Mike Frizzell immediately demanded that the Kaisers remove the landscaping and informed the couple that the city would be installing a fence around the entire 75-foot by 75-foot parcel.
Although the city offered to sell to the Kaisers a narrow strip of land in order to keep the planned fence a reasonable distance from one of the park’s homes, the Kaisers said in an interview last October that they were deeply concerned about the impact that the fence would have on the rest of the park. The Kaisers felt that the new fence would block the existing driveway access to the park and severely limit their ability to move homes in or out.
The Kaisers hired attorney Milton Rowland of Foster Pepper PLLC in Spokane to help them negotiate a fair agreement with the city. Rowland addressed the city council in November, indicating that the Kaisers hoped to avoid litigation in court by negotiating a “mutually beneficial” agreement.
“All these issues can be resolved … so long as both sides are devoted to finding a win-win situation, a mutually satisfactory resolution,” Rowland said to the council at the time.
After Rowland’s presentation, the council directed City Attorney Charles Schuerman to work with Rowland to “negotiate something that would work for both sides.”
Although details of the negotiations are unavailable, it appeared that an agreement would be worked out between the parties. In fact, Schuerman reported to the council in December that “progress” had been made in his talks with Rowland.
At one point, the Kaisers said that they offered the city $20,000 to purchase the disputed property.
But then the situation took a turn and those talks seemed to break down in February when the city council authorized the administration to hire another attorney, Michael Connelly of Etter, McMahon, Lamberson, Van Wert & Oreskovich P.C. in Spokane, to represent the city and “pursue the Kaiser matter.”
In April, the council approved $20,000 of legal expenses for the lawsuit against the Kaisers. That suit was filed May 19 in Stevens County Superior Court.
The failure to come to an agreement and subsequent legal action by the city has left the Kaisers feeling that they have been “targeted.”
Specifically on the issue of encroachment on the undeveloped street right-of-way, the Kaisers feel that the city’s allowance of the Richmond Logging shop on the same right-of-way indicates unfair and preferential treatment by the administration. Former mayor Larry Richmond built the shop on the site several decades ago. Also in the right-of-way are two fences built by the city and power lines owned by Avista Utilities.
“Why are we being forced to move when the Richmond shop is not? It’s obvious the City of Chewelah is targeting us,” Tim Kaiser complained in an interview last week.
In its suit, the city has asked the court to affirm its ownership of the property and order the Kaisers to remove their trailers, landscaping and other improvement from the disputed property and undeveloped street right-of-way.
If the Kaisers are forced to remove trailers from the property and reconfigure the park, the couple said it will cost them a minimum of $6,000 plus annual revenue losses of approximately $7,200. The financial costs, they say, may cause their business to fail.
The Kaisers indicated they feel almost powerless against the city government in the case, noting the city’s deeper financial and legal resources.
“When you go up against the city, they have your money and everybody’s money to use against us,” Tim said.
“I don’t feel we should have to protect ourselves from the city,” Patti added in last week’s interview.
Mayor Dorothy Knauss and City Administrator Mike Frizzell declined to be interviewed for this article, citing advice from their legal counsel.
For now, the Kaisers are not giving up despite mounting legal bills.
In their response, the Kaisers insist that the city’s suit is barred by the state’s ten year statute of limitations, noting that they have been using the disputed property as their own since purchasing the trailer park in 2003, without objection from the city until now. Additionally, the Kaisers have filed a counterclaim asking the court to grant the couple ownership of the disputed property under the state’s adverse possession laws.
A hearing date has not been scheduled.
By Jared Arnold/The Independent Staff