Finished H Street project riles another resident

Published on Wed, Sep 14, 2011 by Jeremy Schwartz

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The former entrance from H Street onto J.R. O’Riley’s property. Photo by J.R. O'Riley.

While the problems one Blaine couple encountered with the recently completed H Street have been remedied, another Blaine area resident maintains the city unfairly blocked access to his property just off of H Street.

On Friday, September 9, Colacurcio Brothers Construction completed repairs to the driveway of Ted and Elizabeth Angell, costing the city about $5,000. The Angells’ RV had been trapped on the couple’s property since July 17 after the city rebuilt their driveway at too steep an angle.

“The good news is that the driveway is fixed and the RV is liberated,” Elizabeth Angell said.

However, J.R. O’Riley, who lives in unincorporated Whatcom County across H Street from the Angells in the Harborview Heights development, said the H Street construction blocked an access route to a piece of property he owns that directly abuts H Street on the south side. Until the construction started, O’Riley said he been able to access the property from H Street via a small dirt road, but the construction increased the grade of H Street and added a guardrail to the south side, blocking access to O’Riley’s property from the north.

O’Riley said the Angells’ situation mirrored his, and he would like the city of Blaine to take similar steps to remedy what O’Riley sees as a detriment to his property.

“What [the city] put [the Angells] through is what they put me through,” O’Riley said.

O’Riley first approached the city with his issue when construction started in July 2010. Representatives from the city maintained that O’Riley’s dirt road was not supposed to be there and, therefore, the city had no responsibility to maintain access to it.

As construction progressed, though, this response seemed unfair to O’Riley, since the city included driveway renovations for both of his neighbors. For instance, the city repaved and shifted the driveway of his neighbor to the west in addition to replacing a few trees that had been torn up. Both of his neighbors reside in the county outside Blaine city limits.

“My neighbors get new driveways, but what do I get?” O’Riley said.

O’Riley said the city’s actions have mostly likely devalued this property to the point that no one will want to buy it. He said he eventually wants to build a house on the piece of land, though currently only a small utility shed sits there.

“I understand it’s not a castle, but you have to start somewhere,” O’Riley said. “To take a person’s dream away is wrong.”

Blaine public works director Steve Banham is familiar with O’Riley’s arguments, but said he does not think the city did anything wrong in blocking access to O’Riley’s dirt road. Banham said the pathway was not supposed to be there in the first place, since O’Riley’s property was designed to be accessed from Harbor Court, a paved road to the south that is part of the Harbor Heights development.

If the property had a house sitting on it and a paved driveway leading to H Street, Banham said the city would have no choice but to alter the driveway to connect back up to the repaved street. This is what the city did with O’Riley’s neighbor’s house, which Banham said can only be accessed via H Street.

Though O’Riley’s property can still be accessed from the south, O’Riley said this would be difficult if not impossible in the winter since Whatcom County does not snowplow the smaller streets in the Harbor Heights development. The city of Blaine would plow H Street come winter, but would not do so for the smaller streets because they are not within city limits, O’Riley explained.

Banham said this is one of the problems that’s common to growth that’s technically in the county but is close to a city’s boundaries. If a home was built on O’Riley’s property, its occupants would not be the only ones having to deal with ice and snow on the development’s small streets.

“Lots of people have snowy driveways,” Banham said.

Despite O’Riley’s protestations, Banham said the city of Blaine has no plans to alter H Street to allow access from the north to O’Riley’s property. Unlike the Angells’ driveway, Banham said he does not see how the city is responsible for replacing the small dirt road that led to the piece of land.