Renters and campers living at the Lakebay Marina face unstable futures as owner Roger Mark Scott contends with a flood of code enforcement issues.
Cynthia Rose started renting space at the Gig Harbor marina for her RV a year ago. Then she found out about its legal problems.
“I didn’t know he didn’t have the permits,” she said of Scott and one of his issues. “That’s something you assume.”
Multiple county and state agencies are investigating Scott and his properties, the Lakebay Marina and Lakebay Marina Cafe, for issues that include illegal camping at the marina, water and sewer violations and illegal shellfish harvesting.
That affects not only him but also the campers, renters and liveaboards docked at the marina.
“Just like me, many people move here and find out the legal issues after,” Rose said. “We don’t know where we’ll go.”
Pierce County has been working with Scott to make the marina compliant with local codes, which do not allow a campsite or RV park, Senior Planner Ty Booth said.
To deal with that, Scott sought “non-conforming rights,” contending the marina had historically been a campsite and should be grandfathered in.
“It’s always been camping,” he said. “I don’t know how they can deny that.”
The county acted after an extensive search found no formal records that the site was ever designated for camping, Booth said.
“We ended up denying it because we could not prove he had grandfathered rights,” he said.
On June 22, county code enforcement sent a final notice and order for Scott to comply with county codes regarding the unlawful campsite and RV park. He appealed July 3, Booth said. A public hearing before a hearing examiner is set Sept. 12.
Facing an unstable future
Rose, one of a handful of renters at the marina, says Scott offers spaces at an affordable price, and that’s attracted some of her neighbors.
For her and the majority of her neighbors, the marina was one of her last chances to find a place to live.
“I was so happy when I came here,” she said. “It’s a beautiful area. I felt at peace.”
Her housing problems began in 2013, when she stopped getting child support for her son and her income was cut.
“I only receive Social Security,” she said. “So my income is $1,400 a month. That’s not a lot to live on.”
She started attending Tacoma Community College, going to school in the day and living in her car at night.
While trying to find a place to live, she moved in and out of homeless shelters. Then she attended The Evergreen State College in Olympia and held a work-study job. She lived in her car and worked at the school while earning a bachelor’s degree.
In 2015, some of her friends invited her to stay in their spare bedroom. During that time, she was able to save enough money to buy a fifth-wheel RV. In 2017, her friends needed their spare room back, so she started looking for a place to park her new home.
“There are not a lot of spaces for RVs this size out on the (Key Peninsula),” Rose said.
In addition, she said, her history living in her car has put up barriers to her renting. For many low-income residents, credit reviews and background checks make finding an affordable home more challenging, she said.
“The thing is I have bad rental history because I couldn’t pay the rent,” Rose said.
Things took a turn for the better when she saw an ad on Craigslist for RV spaces at the Lakebay Marina. Scott told her she could rent a space for $450 a month in the summer and $500 a month in the winter.
She moved to the marina in July 2017.
Then she learned of the legal troubles surrounding the marina. During the winter, she said, when the marina is closed for the season, long-term renters must fend for themselves during power outages and other problems.
These issues are part of the reason the county is trying to make the marina compliant with county code.
Booth said the county wants a tourist attraction on the Key Peninsula and a legal Lakebay Marina that’s part of it
“We recognize the place as historic,” he said. “The Key Peninsula has a vision and noted in its community plan for tourist sites such as this. There is a lack of sites like this in the South Sound and as our population grows, it only will become more needed.
“We would love to work with Mr. Scott to bring this site into compliance. The difficult part is Mr. Scott bought a very old, run-down facility. He should be given credit for purchasing it and trying to put money and work into it.”
What can the county do?
County Councilman Derek Young said he is working with county administrators to help residents living at the marina, either by helping Scott make it compliant or finding other housing for the renters.
“People are living there,” he noted. “It’s not like it just has an out-of-compliance sign you just need to fix. There are people to handle. We don’t want to cause people to be homeless. Our job with the county is to help people who are housing unstable.”
Key Peninsula is not in the county’s urban growth area and is zoned as rural area. That makes it harder to build business and camp sites.
“We can’t simply let people open ad-hoc RV parks,” Young said. “On the one hand, (camping) may be something the community desires. The process for that is a community plan and going through County Council for zoning. In some places, we don’t have to allow that type of use with the Growth Management Act. That’s not necessarily appropriate for a rural zone.”
But something needs to be done, he said.
“People that have never become homeless or been on that edge don’t realize how many barriers that sets up for you, how difficult it is then to get an apartment, to find a job so you can start getting yourself out of that hole,” Young said. “It creates all of these different barriers.”
Young said he is working with other County Council members and county officials to find resources for unstable renters. In the long-run, he said, he’s hoping to create a better safety net for residents.
“Earlier this year I asked that we put a countywide housing strategy on the agenda inside and outside of the cities,” Young said. “We need to be cognizant that a decision in one place affects us all. We need to switch our strategy, to one that doesn’t just help people recover from homelessness but to helping people stop becoming homeless.”
Young said that if the county must have to step-in and shutdown camping at the marina, he hopes to have something in place to help the current residents.
“I know staff are working with them to help the renters, to make sure they have any resources we can get them,” he said. “I don’t think there is going to be any action taken against them that will give them no place to go.”
As for Rose, she’s remaining hopeful that she can stay in her home.