Tuesday, August 17, 2004

This article has caused some controversy

Sale of Boy Scouts' cabin stirs uproar

By Katherine Sather Seattle Times staff reporter

PORT TOWNSEND — For more than 70 years, Port Townsend Boy Scouts earned their badges in a log cabin.

The Scout House was built with Douglas fir on nearly an acre of wooded, view property, and its rafters bear felt banners of achievement stitched with dates as far back as 1938.

But it may be demolished this month amid a controversy that's caused one local Scout leader to step down and some former Scouts to threaten to burn their Eagle badges.

The Chief Seattle Boy Scout Council, with no fanfare, sold the cabin and property in April for $480,000 to a buyer who has since divided the land into six lots and is listing the site for a combined price of $2.2 million.

There's been a strong backlash against the sale in the community, particularly from a group of neighbors who organized as Friends of the Scout House (FOSH) and are leading an uphill effort to get the property back. The neighbors are upset the transaction took place after they tried to preserve the cabin and its parklike setting — the largest undeveloped view property left on Morgan Hill — and say the council did a disservice by selling it so cheaply.

"The community feels the BSA has really let them down," said Judith Bird, of FOSH. "We thought it was fiscally irresponsible for them to sell something that obviously had so much value, at that price."

The Scout House was built in 1932 on property donated to the Port Townsend Scouts. Since then, it's been looked after by the town's Elks Lodge, which sponsors the community's two Boy Scout troops and about 30 Cub Scouts.

"Other clubs meet in places that are generic — firehouses, churches, community centers," said Kevin Amo, Cub Scout leader. "When kids walk in here, they know they're in a place where their parents used to be."

Last fall, the Elks announced they could no longer care for the structure, which needed repairs, and recommended that the Chief Seattle Boy Scout Council sell the property. While there was concern then about the fate of the cabin, some people say they were assured that the Scout council moves at "glacial speed" and wouldn't put the property on the market for some time.

FOSH was formed, and its members vowed to save the landmark. Within two months the group had $70,000 in cash and pledges for repairs, including promises of free labor from former Scouts. The group says it applied to have the Scout House listed on the National Register of Historic Places and contacted the Seattle Scout council weekly for updates on the property.

"When kids walk in here, they know they're in a place where their parents used to be," Port Townsend Cub Scout leader Kevin Amo said of Scout House.

Amo, other Scouting leaders and members of FOSH said they heard nothing about the pending sale until after it was completed in April.

"They ignored us," Bird said. "Not only did they ignore us, they sold it."

The Chief Seattle Boy Scout Council, which oversees Boy Scouts of America operations in five counties in Western Washington (King, Kitsap, Clallam, Jefferson and north Mason), defends the sale and says it's confident it got a good deal. Spokeswoman Alicia Lifrak said the council consulted with Scout leaders, members of the Elks Lodge and Port Townsend community leaders while the deal was being negotiated, although she declined to say who had been contacted.

"We're not really in the real-estate brokerage market," she said. "Our priority is maintaining a good program for kids in safe locations, and our decisions are made accordingly."

Lifrak said the council accepted an unsolicited offer of $480,000 from local developer and former Port Townsend City Councilman Vern Garrison, who says his son-in-law Charlie Arthur, a local real-estate agent, represented him. An appraiser hired by the council, Lifrak said, estimated the value of the property at $420,000.
"There are a lot of people talking about the property being worth more," she said. "Appraisals are very inaccurate sciences and very subjective. We don't really have an opinion on any other appraisals."

Realtor Barbara Bogart, who's worked in Port Townsend since 1986, said the $420,000 appraisal was completely off-base.

"I just don't know why they weren't prudent enough to get a second opinion," Bogart said. "I'm sorry the Scouts didn't realize all they needed to do was get a reliable person to get a market analysis and put it on the market."

Arthur, who has now listed the property for $2.2 million, said the site is valuable because it's so secluded and has views of the water. "Anyone who purchases real estate and turns around to sell it again wishes to make a profit," he said.

Garrison said he was surprised the property could be worth so much more than what he paid.

"It appears I did get a good deal," he said.

But the sale caused a commotion. About 700 people signed petitions to save the site. A Seattle attorney with a home in Port Townsend offered Garrison $800,000, promising to hold on to the property until FOSH could buy it. Garrison did not respond.

FOSH then implored the City Council to help, and options such as trading surplus city land for the Scout property were floated. Famed Mount Everest climber Jim Whittaker, who lives in Port Townsend, joined with those trying to keep the land from being developed.

Most recently, the City Council couldn't agree on a proposal in which the city would have acted as facilitator in a purchase agreement, with FOSH paying Garrison $32,000 up front and about $1.2 million later.

With the property's price tag now more than $2 million, "it seems like every time we're getting somewhere, something else happens," Bird said.

Garrison has given FOSH one month to move the cabin before he'll demolish it. Amo, the Cub Scout leader, fears that's not enough time to find a new location. "It feels like a losing battle at this point in time, but we're still kicking," he said.

Amo's Cub Scouts can no longer meet in the cabin, and he says the local Boy Scout troops' leader has resigned in protest. Amo said the situation has caused bitterness among some former Scouts.

"A couple of former Eagle Scouts were going to burn their badges over this," he said. "These were the same guys who said, 'I'll do the rewiring for you for free.' "

FOSH has persuaded the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation to put the cabin on its list of most endangered historic properties, distributed "Save our Scout House" bumper stickers and started its own Web site.

"The cabin is not glamorous — it's old and run-down," Bird said. "But there's something about having this private little thing. People come here because they know it's here."
Katherine Sather 206-464-2752 or ksather@seattletimes.com

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