Jesse White, president of the Horseshoe Lake Estates Homeowners’ Association, says he will remain at that post until the neighborhood’s suspected drug houses “are all gone.” He is working hard to attract builders to the 125-lot subdivision, as derelict properties are removed. This has resulted in 10 new stick-built homes, five since January, with more to follow, and appreciation of property values for the 105 property owners (20 residences occupy double lots).
Most recently, a drug house in the 9200 block of 147th Street Court has finally been demolished, after two years of effort in documenting illegal activity.
The proof required to begin a formal investigation of activities at the house was time-consuming and meticulous, White said. Over several months, residents recorded more than 60 license plate numbers of “visitors” to the house who stayed but a few minutes, often without ever turning the car off. The house had no electricity, was running on a generator for lights; water had also been shut off. Residents could smell meth “cooking” from the street, and wondered why the occupants weren’t being busted, according to White.
They learned the sheriff had to actually see the activity occurring — and after approximately 24 months of neighborhood observation and documentation of dates, times and activity, a raid paid off. The house was eventually foreclosed while its owner was in jail, and auctioned on the courthouse steps, where it had no takers. (Any new owner would be required to pay for the toxic cleanup of the site.) Eventually it was sold to a company that cleaned and sold it, according to White, to John Follese of Twin Towers Construction who has built several homes in Horseshoe Lake Estates.
Concerned about the number of nonowner-occupied residences in the subdivision, in May 2005, the association voted to exclude long-term rentals (an allowance was made for currently rented properties and short-term nonowner occupancy following the death of an owner). The new covenant says, in part, “This land use restriction… limit(s) and ultimately prevent(s) the renting of lots… which the owners declare has led to frequent lot use in numerous ways by renters which is detrimental to land values and quiet enjoyment of all lots…” Eighty-five percent of the subdivision’s land-owners signed the petition, including several off-site landlords. Seventeen residences are currently being used as rentals, and are “grandfathered in” until those renters vacate.
Rationale behind the change is simple, and potentially useful to other similar communities, White said. Recently, a member of Taylor Bay Estates called for a copy of the new covenant. According to White, some current landlords have inherited their property. “They have nothing in it,” he says. “If they don’t keep them up, the quality of renter goes down.” He contends that if the owner lives next door, residents can police themselves through the use of a neighborhood-based “community watch” security system.
Interestingly, one Horseshoe Lake Estate nonoccupant owner who signed the covenant change decided to rent out his property after the covenant was approved. That owner, living in the Jackson Lake area, has allowed the residence to deteriorate, according to White. Attempts to enforce the new rules have failed. The community association now believes it has no choice but to file a noncompliance suit.
That may prove to be difficult; both ABC Legal Messengers and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department have said they could not serve the owner papers because of dogs patrolling his fenced property. Registered letters of notice have been sent twice, and twice returned to sender, unsigned.
Still, White, his wife, Charlene, and their neighbors are determined to make these new rules “the law” in the subdivision, and to make it clear to everyone that drug activity is no longer tolerated.
“We drive around two or three times daily — making our rounds,” Charlene White said. “We all want the neighborhood cleaned up.”
With an 85 percent consensus on the covenant shift to eventual exclusively owner-occupied residences, it seems almost the entire development is in agreement.