This video is a sharply produced, playfully edited short detailing the legal skirmish over Seattle starchitect Tom Kundig's 850-square foot vacation home, which teeters on a cliff above the Methow Valley.
Visitors to the sylvan paradise of Mazama, nestled into the eastern flank of the North Cascades (a 4-5 hour drive from Seattle), can spot the house, or hut, peering down from the ridge. It’s the only man-made thing up there, as out of place as a gum wrapper on a hiking trail, and it’s had residents of the entire valley up in arms for the last few years. Their expensive lawsuit, which seeks to move the house off the ridge was just settled: An Okanogan County Superior Court Judge told Kundig to move his house off the ridgeline.
Moving Mazama was directed by filmmaker Katie Turinski. The plaintiffs in the case accused Kundig, the hut's designer and co-owner, of ignoring the covenants against building along the ridgeline. Plaintiffs argue that such ridgeline buidling destroys the rustic natural beauty of the surrounding foothills and possibly makes it easier for others to do the same thing in the future.
The covenants do seem a bit murky, trusting more to common sense and shared values than to the prickly details of restrictions and easements. And opponents of Kundig’s hut — it looks like a cozy, wood-lined, windowed trailer, stretching out like a diving board over the cliff — say they don’t necessarily want him to tear it down, they just want him to move it out of sight.
It’s a touchy issue for a valley proud of its efforts to retain the Arcadian luster of an unspoiled idyll. Homeowners and businesses are asked to keep exterior lights off at night, land is carefully subdivided to retain woodsy buffers, tents and trailers are not acceptable dwellings on newly purchased parcels. You can see why people are more than a little miffed at Kundig for curdling the valley’s placid vibe, and why a Move The Hut movement took off like a grass fire.
The architect refused to be interviewed for the video, but Turinski dug up footage of Kundig talking about another project he designed in the Methow, the hard-to-miss resort along Highway 20 called The Rolling Huts. Planted atop a former campground, again with warrants stating no permanent structures be built there, the Huts are on wheels, albeit wheels that are not intended to move. The video clip of Kundig boasting about how he and his team cleverly skirted the covenant is fairly damning, revealing an arrogance out-of-step with the tranquil rhythms of this place where people go to chill out.
Residents seem to have forgiven him for the Huts, which are adjacent to an excellent independent restaurant, Kelly’s, featuring a dandy beer menu, which always helps. But locals drew the line at Kundig's pimple on the ridge. And they won. Now, he'll have to move it or tear it down.
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This story has been corrected since it first was published.