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Port of Tacoma sets terms for Marine View Drive homeowners

Post by John Gillie / The News Tribune on Nov. 15, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
November 15, 2012 4:04 pm

A new lease deal approved Thursday for homeowners occupying a Port-of-Tacoma-owned strip of land along Marine View Drive could bring big changes to the historic waterfront neighborhood in the next year.

That lease proposal, approved in a 3-1 vote by commission members at their Thursday meeting, outlaws homeowners subleasing cabins on the port’s property.

That provision, approved with only Port Commissioner Clare Petrich dissenting, would force non-owner occupants out of three subleased homes in as little as 60 days.

The new lease deal, the subject of discussion between homeowners and the port for years, finally sets rules for the neighborhood’s future.

The port bought the 17-acre property bordering Commencement Bay near the mouth of the Hylebos Waterway from Foss Maritime in 2005 for $2.75 million. The property was occupied by ten overwater homes, the remnants of a fishing settlement. The homes were owned by individuals. The port acquired the property on which they sat.

The port continued to lease the homeowners the land under the terms of their lease with Foss, but the port sought to craft its own agreement.

The new lease to be offered the eight remaining homeowners sets rents at 9.2 cents a square foot per month, requires homeowners to pay a leasehold tax, sets insurance requirements and sets up a year-long buyback program. Under that program, the port would buy the homes during the next year if homeowners offered them for purchase.

After that period, if the homeowners moved out of the houses, they could not sublease them. Their lease would automatically terminate.

The homeowners under those circumstances would be free to move the homes or the port would demolish them at no cost to the homeowners.

The port’s new leasing deal outlaws existing subleases. Three homes are now subleased.

Port spokeswoman Tara Mattina said that once the homeowners ended the subleases, they could move the homes, offer to sell them to the port or abandon them.

The port will give homeowners 60 days to sign the leases. Once those leases are signed, subleasing will be prohibited.

Mattina said if the port buys the homes or they are abandoned, the port will likely board up the homes and wait until several are available for demolition at once before razing them. The port already owns one home.

Homeowners have complained that the port’s policies will spell the end to a unique neighborhood with roots back to Scandinavian fishermen who built many of the structures as net sheds.

The new lease deal will allow the port to terminate the leases with a year’s notice to homeowners. If the port unilaterally terminates a lease, it will offer to buy the home.

The port has said it intends to use the land to create a maritime sanctuary for wildlife. Homeowners say the land and the near-shore waters are already populated by fish and birds. They contend they’ve been good stewards of the land, cleaning up trash that collects on the beaches and preserving the area for aquatic life.

Commissioner Petrich said she thought the port would be treating the homeowners unfairly if the commission forbade them from subleasing their homes. The port, she said, allows commercial tenants to sublease.

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