Kennewick reservist faces landscape woes

By John Trumbo, Herald staff writerOctober 5, 2008 

Burke Jensen moved to Kennewick about a year ago, bought a nice house in the country south of the city and began to settle into a new job at Energy Northwest.

Then came the call five months ago to serve his country in Kuwait.

So Jensen, who says he is an involuntarily mobilized reservist, headed off, leaving behind a pregnant wife, a young son and a 2.5-acre lot with not a spot of landscaping on it.

Now, Lt. Jensen is being told to get an irrigation system and landscaping on his property as soon as possible or face legal action from the Oak Hill Country Estates Homeowners' Association.

"I really don't give a (expletive) where he is or what his problem is," said Chick Edwards, owner and developer of the 47-lot subdivision at the south end of Oak Street in Kennewick.

"It doesn't matter to me," said Edwards, who insists Jensen has violated terms of the homeowners association covenants requiring that landscaping be completed within one year after an occupancy permit is issued for a home.

"(Jensen) doesn't have the right to walk away from his obligation," said Edwards, who as the developer is the only member of the homeowners' association. "I have most of the property still, so I am the homeowners association," he said.

Jensen's situation is complicated by the fact his wife chose to return with her son to stay with family on the East Coast for the duration of her pregnancy, leaving the home also unoccupied.

Jensen's attorney, Tony DeAlicante of Redmond, Ore., said Jensen had paid a landscaper thousands of dollars to design and install an irrigation system and hydroseed the large lot this summer.

But DeAlicante said it appears the landscaper may have abandoned the job with the irrigation system only partially completed and no seeding done.

DeAlicante said Jensen also would like to find a renter for his home, but Edwards said that would be a commercial use not allowed by the homeowners' association.

"He's not going to rent it," said Edwards, who said an attorney who's reviewed the covenants agrees.

An e-mail on Friday from Jensen to DeAlicante, which was provided to the Herald, says several of Jensen's fellow employees at Energy Northwest are helping to clear the property of weeds and blow out sprinkler lines, if necessary, to make sure they will not freeze during the winter. It also says a neighbor used a tractor to mow weeds.

Rick Miller, whose home is in sight of Jensen's, said he's sympathetic to Jensen's situation. "Given the circumstances, it doesn't bother me," he said. "He can't control the circumstances."

DeAlicante said he has written Edwards to tell him the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act prevents any civil legal action from being taken against someone on active military duty overseas. He also maintains Edwards cannot legally prevent Jensen from renting his property.

But Edwards said he isn't backing down. "This is a contract. I don't like the way his property looks. This clown gets to do what he wants and I'm as mad as hell," he said.

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