Gone But Not Forgotten
- Aug 18, 2002
- Reaction score
http://www.kingcountyjournal.com/sited/story/html/146551A feud costing thousands
by David A. Grant
BELLEVUE -- He lives in a purple and pink house with a flaming yellow ``flying boat'' tied down in his front yard a few steps from Lake Sammamish.
He's spent ,000 and counting on lawyers to fight his neighbors over issues such as noise, storm water runoff, easements and construction permitting.
By his own count, he's been visited by King County sheriff's deputies more than 100 times over a variety of complaints -- his and neighbors' -- since he built and moved into his tiny house in 1992.
Like the beat up Nomad trailer overgrown by blackberries at the head of his driveway, Ralph Guditz just doesn't seem to fit into this quiet, wooded lane of million-dollar homes.
Some neighbors disparagingly refer to his 400-square-foot home as the ``tool shed.'' They say his plane's too loud, his house is too loud and -- most of all -- Guditz is too loud.
It's Bellevue's version of a neighborhood feud.
After more than three years of trying, Guditz is on the verge of gaining the approval he needs to build six condominiums on his roughly one-third acre lot.
But his neighbors, led by several members of the Kelleran family, who own two of the five homes on the little road, have vowed to block the project. Lawyers, money and accusations are in motion.
Neighbors say Guditz's Widgeon Condominium project would detract from the character of their five-house neighborhood, increase traffic and disrupt the environment.
Guditz, in turn, points out that a 52-unit condominium complex lies just a few feet away from his property, on the other side of the neighborhood's only road.
Today the neighbors are scheduled to file an appeal with a state hearings board of recent decisions by King County and the City of Bellevue saying the project can move forward.
Their appeal will argue, among other things, that the condo project should never have been vested three years ago, just before the neighborhood was annexed into the City of Bellevue. They claim Guditz's application was incomplete and that there are problems related to widening the access road, as would be required of the project.
Michael Paine, an environmental issues planner with the city of Bellevue, said Guditz has a right to develop his property based upon the rules under which it was proposed three years ago. But that doesn't mean much to his neighbors.
``Most single-family residents want to see homes similar to what they have,'' Paine said. ``All these neighborhoods are evolving. You see Mediterranean-style mansions next to older ranch-style homes. You see those contrasts on Lake Sammamish. So this is not unusual.
``But the circumstances and personalities have driven this to a whole new dimension.''
One complicating circumstance is the fact that Guditz submitted his applications for his Widgeon Condominium project to King County planners in late 2000, shortly before the West Lake Sammamish neighborhood was annexed into the city of Bellevue in March 2001.
The same project would not be allowed today under Bellevue's zoning laws, Paine said, and that fact galls the Kellerans. The neighbors have spent ,000 fighting the plan and, as Brad Kelleran, said, ``It's just started.''
Linda Kelleran, who lives at the top of a sloping, wooded 2.3-acre property with her husband Brad just uphill from Guditz, is incensed that the 10-foot wide road would need to be widened to 22 feet and that several mature fir trees would need to be cut in order to build the condos.
The neighbors say a bigger road could affect a small stream running nearby and disrupt possible eagle nesting along the easement.
``We're all incensed about this,'' said Linda Kelleran, whose brother-in-law, Bruce Kelleran, lives on a waterfront lot below her. ``We don't want the development, don't want the road to change, don't want the trees cut.
``We think it should be a single-family neighborhood. That's the primary thing that all the neighbors feel.''
Ironically, Brad and Linda Kelleran are developers and own Kelleran Custom Homes, a builder of single-family houses mostly in Kirkland.
Guditz, meanwhile, calls the stream a drainage ditch and says he's never seen an eagle nest in the 11 years he's lived there. Furthermore, it's not his idea to widen the road -- it's a requirement.
He said he has played by all the rules and is proposing nothing prohibited by the King County zoning regulations under which he applied for his permits.
``I've been trying to leave for five years,'' Guditz said. ``It's my right to build the condominium project. I pay higher property taxes because of the multi-family zoning.
``I knew the zoning when I bought (the property), so shouldn't I be able to recover my investment?''
The neighbors have long since stopped talking with each other, leaving the battle of the condos to their lawyers.
But the condo project is just one of many clashes over the years. Guditz has complained about noise at a nearby bible camp, water runoff from an adjacent property and neighbors making improvements without proper permits.
His neighbors aren't too happy with him, either. They say his house is an eyesore, his plane is too loud and he is unfriendly.
Guditz's former next door neighbor from 1994 to 1998, Char Peacey, said she and her husband, Bob, moved out of their lakefront house because of ongoing run-ins.
``He was totally out of control,'' Peacey said. ``I know we spent at least ,000 in attorneys' fees for restraining orders (against him.)''
She accuses him of nearly running over her daughter, dumping trash in her driveway and running his plane out on the lake in the early morning hours.
When their home was up for sale, Peacey said, Guditz put up a sign facing her house saying that if his plane was tampered with, the transgression would be punishable by death.
For his part, Guditz denies trying to run over Peacey's daughter or dumping trash. He did post a sign concerning his airplane and admits he occasionally ran his plane early in the morning. He went to court to get a no-contact order of his own against the Peaceys.
Guditz also levels allegations of his own, saying Bob Peacey pointed a pistol at him in 1998.
Soon after that incident, Guditz painted his house purple and pink, which, according to Guditz, caused the Peaceys to lower the asking price on the home they were trying to sell by 0,000.
Char Peacey denies both accounts.
Also in 1998, Guditz said, he decided to built his condominium project, eventually naming it after his vintage 1944 Grumman Widgeon, a rare and unusual airplane in some ways a reflection of its owner.
After graduating with a masters degree in electrical engineering from MIT, Guditz, now 51, traveled west from Boston and in 1978 founded Fugu Ltd, a company that made computer-aided design software, in Palo Alto, Calif.
At its high point, Fugu had annual revenues of million and several offices worldwide, Guditz said. He moved the company to the Eastside in 1989, but in 2000 he quietly shut it down to pursue his passion for flying.
Along the way, Guditz has shown he is not afraid to take on foes large and small, in and out of court. In 1995, he created a stir when he challenged Microsoft Corp. over telephone calls meant for the software giant that were flooding the offices of Fugu. The problem: the unrelated companies' main phone numbers were one digit apart, resulting in countless misdirected calls.
After trying to resolve the problem for years, Guditz said, he began redirecting the errant calls to one of Microsoft's in-house attorneys. Microsoft threatened to sue, but never did and the issue was resolved quietly.
Today Guditz spends most of his time in Anchorage, where he owns a townhouse and is trying to build an airplane charter business.
All he wants to do now, he said, is build his condominiums and move on.
Michael Paine, the Bellevue planner, said the condo project annoys neighbors who expected that annexation into the city would protect their neighborhood from such a development.
``It's really different parties trying to protect their economic interests,'' Paine said. ``That's what it boils down to.
``It's more than a garden-variety development dispute. It's exacerbated by the characters involved. The degree of vehemence and persistence is unusual.''
to get a better idea of this you do nee to see the picture: