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Stevenson Farm horses evicted

Bucolic is how horse owner Lorna Isenberg refers to the Stevenson property where she has boarded her thoroughbred, Rocky, for nine years.

The Stevenson property, an approximately five-acre oasis south of Island Park off of Island Crest Way, is the only place other than the Saddle Club, right down the road, where horses can be found on the Island.

Lewis Stevenson Sr., who owned the property, died March 16, and now his heirs are asking the horse owners to find other lodging for their horses by May 15. There are 10 horses boarded there.

“We are sorry to inform you that, due to the passing of our dad, Lewis Stevenson, it is now necessary to close down his horse boarding operation,” the letter from the Stevenson family reads. “Our dad took great pleasure in providing you with a place to enjoy your horse — sadly, it must come to an end.”

Isenberg is lucky. Her trainer has a barn in the Maple Valley area where Rocky knows the place and the other horses, and where he will be fine.

“We knew it was coming,” Isenberg said. “Mr. Stevenson was very elderly. The whole thing is a great loss for Mercer Island.”

Isenberg said the Stevenson family has been wonderful. She and the other horse owners are grateful for the time they had at the Stevenson farm.

There are a dozen horse stalls on the property and plenty of area for turnout. Isenberg said it’s all self-care — nothing fancy; in fact, it’s rather rustic. But it’s home for the horses, and a place where kids walking by can stop and pet Rocky, or whatever horse they choose.

The boarders have paid $200 per month to keep their horses there, not quite enough to cover the annual tax bill of $27,883 for 2011. The $200 includes water, and the Stevenson family has removed the manure from the pasture. There is no electricity to the stalls.

Connie Clark-Redmond is the president of the Mercer Island Saddle Club. She said they only have 20 stalls at the club, and a waiting list of 40 people. Clark-Redmond said the person at the top of the waiting list has been on the list for six years. She said she is not aware of any other property where people could take their horses.

“The nice thing about Stevenson’s is, it’s a close ride to the Saddle Club,” she said. “We have at least four people on our waiting list that are at Stevenson’s.”

Lori Dawson has two horses at Stevenson. She is fortunate because she is moving to Colorado at the end of June, where her horses will have 10 acres to roam.

“It’s a huge loss to the community,” Dawson said.

Dawson said the loss of the Stevenson property will impact the health of the horses because there is significant turnout, or room for the horses to roam around on the property, but there is not at the Saddle Club.

“Horses are meant to move around and interact with one another,” Dawson said.

Isenberg and Clark-Redmond agree. Isenberg said horses are social animals, and they are in a great place at Stevenson since they can move around.

“Horses are just like people,” Clark-Redmond said. “Some don’t like being contained to a small space. Horses are more active and need more room.”

 

Lewis Stevenson had four children: Lew Jr., Jim, Nancy Comer and Linda Ramsey. Lew Stevenson Jr. is a CPA in the Bellingham area. The four of them plan to get together after tax season to discuss their options. He said they haven’t made any decisions.

A prepared statement from the family reads, “As with every passing of a loved one, things change and we, unfortunately, find ourselves in the position of making some difficult choices — choices we realize may result in change to a property that has a been a fixture of the community for the last 60 years.

“While our longtime horse boarders have been aware of our 95-year-old father’s increasing health issues and the likelihood of a change in use of the property on his passing, we understand the disruption loss of such a facility can bring.

“One thing is clear to the four siblings and that is with our father no longer keeping an eye on the place, we do not have the ability to manage a horse boarding operation from our distant locations.

“As with other families of a deceased who must decide on the handling of a loved one’s assets, we too will be deciding on the best way to handle the disposition of our parent’s property.

“We struggle with the fact our parents worked very hard to preserve their way of life for almost 60 years on the Island, and this included their strong desire to make a horse facility available to young people who had a love of horses in the community. We would love to see the property preserved as one large parcel and are open to the community’s efforts to make that happen.”

The King County assessor’s office has the land assessed at $3,187,000 and the old house that Stevenson lived in until his death assessed at $64,000. The roof of the house is caked in moss, and the roof of an outbuilding has caved in. But this is a flat, easily accessible parcel, ripe for development.

Zoned R9.6, if the property were to be subdivided, each lot would have to be a minimum of 9,600 square feet, said George Steirer, the principal planner for the City of Mercer Island. Steirer said he is not aware of any pre-applications to develop the land. He said some land would have to be taken out for roads, and utilities would be underground.

EJ Bowlds, the principal managing broker for Coldwell-Banker Bain on Mercer Island, said about one-third of the property would be lost to roads if it were to be developed.

“A big-production builder might have the horsepower to buy it, but to buy it and subdivide it could take two to two-and-a-half years,” Bowlds said. “By then the market would be arguably better, but it’s not exactly the best timing for someone to do this.”

But, this is Mercer Island, Bowlds said, and people do want to live here. He said it would depend on the product and the price as to whether or not a development would work on the Stevenson property. Bowlds said a developer would look at what he/she could sell individual lots for in a couple of years, taking development expenses into account. That said, he felt the land might be worth $3.5 to $4 million now — noting that three years ago it was probably worth $6 million.

Realtor Diane Rae Jones, with Windermere Real Estate, using a rule of thumb, felt the property might be worth $4.5 million. But good luck selling it, she said, due to the fact that it has no view, and often the best buyers for large tracts of land — builders — just don’t have the money right now.

Mercer Island builder Peter Davis agreed that it’s not the market it was five years ago, and acknowledged the difficulty in obtaining financing on raw land for development. But, Davis said, there’s always the possibility of somebody getting creative on the financing.

Horse trainer Jacqueline Jacobi, who trains 40 students using her own two horses and one other at the Saddle Club, said there is a possibility of the horse community approaching the Stevenson family with some ideas to perhaps create a nonprofit for use by the equestrians, or come up with an investor to buy the property, maybe build four homes and devote the balance to horses.

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