Architect Tom Kundig’s cabin designs are striking in their modern style and boxy shapes — they’re certainly not designed to blend in — and that’s a problem in eastern Washington’s Methow Valley, where a hut owned by Kundig and friends perches on a ridgeline viewable from the valley floor. Just two other ridgeline structures are visible in this rolling green mountain getaway — a still-active 1920s fire lookout on Goat Peak and Department of Transportation communications towers – and neither have anywhere near the visual impact of the cabin. Now the community is fighting to have the hut moved, and the former owners of the parcel are suing Kundig.
“The hut not only violates the ridgeline, it violates the decades of effort by this community to keep this place special and determine what it wanted it to be,” said Bill Pope, an activist with Move the Hut. “Additionally, we feel the current owners clearly violated the covenants on the property that aimed to prevent exactly this from happening.”
In early May, Kundig’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought by the prior owners, but at a hearing this week a judge allowed the case to go forward. The convenants, written in 1987 by prior owners, say, “All improvements placed on the property shall be constructed with constraint and special sensitivity and consideration in order to minimize the visual impact of any such improvements on adjoining parcels and on all other lands, including lands located on the floor of the Methow Valley and all other lands which have a direct line of sight to the property.”
“We don’t live up there any longer but we kept all this crap off the skyline for 50 years,” John Hayes, one of the former owners of the property, told the Methow Grist.
Pope said, “The community is overwhelmingly in step on this. What you see in this area, or rather what you don’t see, this didn’t happen by accident. Over the years, decades, the community has developed a common vision to help preserve the special landscape here. Building on ridges definitely runs counter to all that this community believes in.”
Nearly 500 people signed a petition urging Kundig to move the hut farther back in his property, out of sight from the valley below — this, where the nearest town, Mazama, has just 250 year-round residents.
Jim Dow, one of the four owners of the hut (with Kundig, Kundig’s wife, and Ben Rand), said, “It’s not a happy situation. We’ve gotten a lot of negative reaction.” He and the other owners argue that they have built in adherence to the convenants.
Located on Flagg Mountain, the cabin is starkly minimal, with no running water or septic system, and is permitted for occupancy just 60 days a year. It is a much less lavishly appointed structure than the famous Delta Shelter or Rolling Huts that Kundig designed.
The Methow Valley receives about 500,000 visitors a year. “Ridgelines look like the ideal place to build in order to admire the view,” says the “Good Neighbor Handbook” produced by a valley land trust. “Unfortunately, ridgeline houses permanently mar the scenic beauty that many treasure in the Methow Valley…While there is currently no ordinance in place to limit ridgeline building, there is strong resistance to ridgeline homes.”
Photos by Bill Pope