By Sarah Toce

A Normandy Park resident says he has been battling the City of Normandy Park for six years because of a retaining wall – and what he believes was a huge misunderstanding.

William Wood, 48, was raised in Burien and lived there most of his life. He went to Evergreen High School and currently lives in Normandy Park. Wood and his uncle, Jerry Weiler, were close, and when he died, he left his property to Wood’s grandparents. When they were unable to take on the responsibility of the home, Wood purchased it. He now lives there with a family of his own.

After a rainstorm washed away dirt near his garage, Wood decided to reinforce the area with a retaining wall. The City of Normandy Park came out to Wood’s property where they issued him a stop order, and he said he immediately went to City Hall to get the proper permits.

Ryan Harriman was the Community Development Director in 2018, and the City Manager was Mark Hoppen. Wood met with Harriman and Hoppen the day he received the stop order.

This is the retaining wall in question.

“I’m just cleaning up the hillside that washes out every year,” Wood told them. He was told that he was responsible for the dirt even though it was in the City of Normandy Park’s right of way.

“I explained to them what I was going to build. They issued me a right of way permit and waived all the fees and called it ‘emergency use.’ I explained to him exactly what I was doing,” Wood recalled. “Ryan said, ‘Don’t worry about it. Do what you need to do.’”

Wood said he spent three weeks building the retaining wall at a cost of $30,000. During that time, City employees came out twice: one time to put rolls of straw in the drainage ditch and another time to check on the progress. During the two site visits, Wood said no one told him anything was wrong.

“The wall was completely finished when my neighbor went back down to the City and said he didn’t like it. So, the City issued me another stop work order. I went back down to the City of Normandy Park to talk with Mark and Ryan again. Mark said the wall was a little taller than he thought it would be, but he understood, and it would be an easy fix.”

Wood and the City entered into a Voluntary Correction Agreement in October 2019.

“Basically, what happened was that Mark realized we took some shortcuts when we entered into this agreement, and it was fine until someone complained,” Wood said. “We decided that to fix it, I would pay for the permits, get engineering, and the City would pay for the wall.”

Wood, Harriman, and Hoppen discussed the finished row at the top of the wall and the rebar that was sticking out. Wood asked that they make sure the rebar was tucked away as it would be unsafe for children in the area who might play near it.

It was around the time of the correction agreement that Wood went to Elmer’s in Burien and ran into Hoppen, Harriman, and other City employees. They were there celebrating Ryan’s promotion to a position with another city.

Wood claims Ryan told him the following:

“’Man, I felt bad for you. I didn’t care what you did because I was leaving the City anyway. We didn’t care what you did. The only reason we have a problem is that your neighbor complained, and now we have to do something about it. If your neighbor didn’t complain, we wouldn’t have had to do anything about it.’”

Harriman reluctantly confirmed Wood’s suspicion that it was the neighbor two doors down from him who issued the complaint. Wood attempted to contact his neighbor, who had moved by that time, to ask him to write a letter in support of his efforts. His neighbor told Wood that it would be too “political” and he couldn’t help him.

Wood said that around this time, COVID-19 surfaced as a global pandemic and everything shut down, including engineering companies. Another thing happened: Hoppen retired. With Harriman also no longer in the picture and a new city manager, Amy Arrington, at the wheel, the email exchanges became more “rude and not as friendly,” Wood said.

“If Mark was still city manager, I wouldn’t even be having this conversation,” Wood said. “It would have been already taken care of.”

On Nov. 5, 2020, City of Normandy Park Environmental Specialist Jessie Medrow confirmed in an email to Wood that he was working with the city attorney to update the voluntary compliance agreement to accurately reflect the scope of work, including replacing the top row with finished blocks.

This is the Nov. 5, 2020 email from City of Normandy Park Environmental Specialist Jessie Medrow.

The voluntary compliance agreement was never updated and sent to Wood, he said. The City of Normandy Park is now suing Wood for $1 million for a violation and $250 per day in fines dating back to 2018.

Wood was flabbergasted. “How can I be in violation of something I never received?”

The retaining wall issue was becoming more personal, too, affecting Wood’s mental health.

“Imagine coming home every single day and turning the corner and all you see is that wall,” he said. “Your house is supposed to be your safe space, right? This whole thing has been so stressful. I get up in the morning, go to work, and try to provide for my family, and now my entire savings are threatened to be taken away from me for this wall that was already approved.”

Wood asked for a meeting with Arrington, during which time he begged for it all to end so that he could sleep at night and find peace and sanity.

According to Wood, Arrington replied to his request to “do anything they needed to end this whole thing,” with “That was the old city, and I’m the new city. I’m not going to honor that agreement.”

Arrington reportedly told Wood that she couldn’t “…justify spending city funds on your personal project. I can more easily justify spending money fighting you on this agreement than I can fixing your wall.”

Wood said he was floored.

“She didn’t give a sh*t,” he remembered. “She said it was city money and not her money and she could justify suing me.”

Wood estimated he is in debt approximately $70,000 in attorneys’ fees and $40,000 for the retaining wall.

During this time, Wood tracked down Hoppen in Bremerton and called him.

“I asked him why he entered this voluntary correction agreement with me. He told me, ‘I honestly think there was some miscommunication at the office. You did build it a little taller than we expected, and it wasn’t totally your fault,’” Wood said.

Hoppen told Wood:

“It’s not the city’s position to make it difficult, intimidate or harass our residents. Our position is to work with them to come up with an equitable resolution that makes everybody happy. And I felt due to the way that the wall was agreed upon, that it was a fair and equitable solution with shared responsibility.”

Wood remembered being told, “Do whatever you need to do.” He decided to take the wall down to 4-feet like they originally asked so that the city would “walk away, and I could walk away.” That cost him another $20,000.

“That pissed the city off even more,” Wood said.

Wood and the City of Normandy Park entered mediation three months ago. Wood said he was asked to remove all the blocks on the property, which would cost him another $23,000. The mediation team went on a break and exited the room. When they returned, he said they raised their request to $30,000.

“Amy didn’t even show up to mediation to negotiate a resolution, which I found very interesting,” Wood said.

After the mediator called Arrington for her input, he relayed a message to Wood’s team:

“I don’t feel that she wants to negotiate at all and that we’re basically wasting her time. She’s power-tripping. If I was the judge on this case, I would put her in her place.”

Wood said he wrote to “all of the City Councilmembers” and was told “not to contact them again.”

Wood asked, “Aren’t they my representatives?”

During this time two houses away from Wood, a retaining wall was built. It’s also partially on the city’s right of way.

“When I asked my neighbor if they got a permit for the wall,” he said, “‘No, because it’s a 4-foot wall.’ My wall was cut down to 4-feet and this nightmare is still happening. It makes no sense.”

Wood said that “another 10-12 houses away, there is a house with a retaining wall and their wheels are on the sidewalk when they park. Why are they only coming after me when this is happening all over Normandy Park? If I have to move my wall out of the right of way, why don’t they?”

Wood said he is seeking peace.

“I just want to go home and relax with my family,” he shared. “I want this nightmare to be over so I can move on with my life. I take pride in my house and in my neighborhood, and this is very frustrating.”

Currently, Wood is deciding whether to go to trial.

City Manager Amy Arrington Responds

We reached out to City Manager Amy Arrington, who responded with the following statement:

“Since this matter is in active litigation, the City must respectfully decline to comment. Have a great day.”

Sarah Toce has been in media and publishing for over 16 years and previously served as the president of the Society of Professional Journalists.