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.”

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

Join the Conversation

14 Comments

  1. This is absolutely bull####. The city should not be going after this guy for a wall. I think there are more important things then this.

  2. Wow! I live in Normandy Park and have been connected to the business community here since 2004. This small town caters to their wealthy residents. The city council and PD definitely have the “big fish in a little pond mentality” and are treating Mr. Wood in a reprehensible fashion, just because they can get away it….and maybe to poke at former City leadership.

  3. Street-level bureaucrats are often able to cut through red tape and use their powers for good, but they are also able to wield their power for evil, as we can see from City Manager Amy Arrington. Other residents of Normandy Park may gloat and be relieved that this is not them being the victim of a power-tripping City Manager, but don’t relax for long as you could be the next victim of vindictive actions and unreasonable interpretations of city law. Instead of working with the homeowner and making nice, it appears Amy is going out of her way to make things difficult and expensive and doesn’t mind using other Normandy Park residents funds to persecute this poor guy. Remember this in your future dealings with the City of Normandy Park. Have a great day!

  4. His mistake was believing city employees when they said they could easily fix it without all necessary documentation and permits. New city manager in Normandy Park, wow, no words for someone living off of the taxpayer. Yep, not your money and you are acting like it too.

  5. Well done Ms Arrington. I wont use the term “Mayor” since people in that position do not launch frivolous lawsuits against citizens they are supposed to serve. I drive by Mr Woods wall almost everyday. I can not believe anyone has a problem with it. Based on the slope it needs to be there and he is right, there are walls of equal height, with much smaller landscaping blocks, all over Normandy Park. I hope the citizens of Normandy Park show up in mass at the next Normandy Park Council Meeting and call for some accountability from Arrington. Stop wasting our taxpayer money suing our neighbors for nothing other than what the city helped create.

  6. Omg, I am so glad I live in lovely, friendly Burien. Normandy Park sounds like a hornets’ nest of small town officials who are in love with their petty power. Shame on all of them who are making this poor guy’s life a nightmare.

  7. The injustice is staggering. I’d be going nuts. The new city manager is acting like he’s trafficking meth with that hard-line stance. Just work with the guy and get this thing put to rest. If he gets a good enough lawyer, NP is going to owe him a lot more than the cost for a retaining wall retro. My cold, dark DM resident heart wouldn’t mind seeing NP city council having to eat their shirts because they thought a spitting contest was worth their residents’ tax dollars.

  8. As noted in the article, employees who work at the city of Normandy Park don’t stay there for the long term. Also in the article, the city council members ask not to be contacted by one of the residents having an issue. Additionally, the article portrays the city manager as a power tripper.
    What is wrong with this city?
    Everything!

  9. Wow, unbelievable that the City would choose to spend our money on something like this. A homeowner making things better and safer! To what end? This is egregious!!!

  10. This sounds like the city wants to try and please everyone and using Mr. Wood as an example. This appears as if new leadership is attempting to make a name for themselves. It’s really too bad, a tax paying, law abiding resident had taken on the responsibility to repair and maintain their residence and they are now be ridiculed and punished. It seems if Mr Wood would have left the residence (garage space) in ill repair after several mudslides,neighbors would’ve complained about that too. Trying to do the right thing, taking care of your family and your home should be commended.Shame on our representatives that are making this seem personal, wasting our resources on trivial law suits. Do they right thing City of Normandy Park and stop the nonsense!!

  11. This seems a bit ridiculous. Instead of working to fix whatever actual issue there is, which seems like nothing. It seems like Arrington wants to make this as painful as possible. I hope a court makes Mr. Wood whole again and then some, while making an example of this kind of viscous litigation.

  12. None of that makes any sense. Why is the city willing to spend taxpayer dollars to go after a tax paying citizen who has an agreement with the city and trying to do this the right way. MAKES NO SENSE, WHAT KIND OF CLOWN WORLD ARE WE LIVING IN. This lady is giving all public servants a bad name.

  13. I work for a municipal government who deals with permitting and associated code enforcement and where this has ended up is truly bizarre to me. Litigation is always a last resort in these situations and there clearly is some admission of fault by previous city employees involved, albeit not clearly expressing requirements or cutting corners on the agreement process. The original part of the story it seemed like the city was trying to be helpful coming to a resolution but realizing once the wall was too tall (4-ft tall walls needing engineering is a international building code requirement) there needed to be some additional documentation to meet code, totally understand that. Then backtracking and starting an enforcement action and administering penalties for alleged violations when a resident is trying to resolve the problem amicably is just wild. Goodluck to you William!

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