Whatcom County officials have once again turned up the pressure on Bill Beckett to close Spooner Creek Park, a baseball complex built without permits in 1999 on his property.
Due to his long-time failure to bring the property into compliance, the county is now assessing fines of $1,000 a day for every day the fields, located at 9200 Spooner Creek Lane, are used. A conditional use permit (CUP) hearing before the county hearing examine is tentatively scheduled for August 11. Additionally, the county health department has joined the fray and closed the concessions stand and washrooms, which Beckett says will cost him nearly $2,000 in daily revenue.
A letter to Beckett from environmental health specialist Phillip Martinez points out the restrooms and concession stand were connected to a six-bedroom, single-family residential on-site septic system (OSS). Beckett’s OSS permit allowed for a 3 - 4 bedroom home. On June 19, park customers were without concessions.
Beckett, who has hosted summer and early fall tournaments for youth baseball leagues from all over the state, was previously forced to close by the county in 2007.
In a letter to customers dated June 14, Beckett admitted that he had gone about the project backwards. He stated that he believed his property was zoned for park and recreation facilities and didn’t understand that a CUP was required. Beckett also contended that during the 2007 closure county executive Pete Kremen encouraged him to meet with the Whatcom County planning department and begin operating again while he waited for his CUP.
He reopened the park in spring of 2009. Kremen disputes Beckett’s assertion and points out that he hadn’t spoken to Beckett personally until March of this year.
Beckett confirmed that the idea came second-hand from a mutual acquaintance.
“Time and time again,” Kremen said, “Mr. Beckett has been unwilling to come into compliance. He continues to defy and ignore zoning rules and regulations regarding public health.”
For Mike and Diane Hastings, who also live on Spooner Creek Lane, their hope is that the county will close Beckett down once and for all.
Their home is directly south of the complex and sits on a low bluff overlooking the convergence of Dakota and Spooner creeks. The weekly tournament crowds have disrupted the Hastings’ dreams of a peaceful home life. “It’s an illegal business,” Mike Hastings said. He cites concerns about public safety, environmental issues in Spooner Creek and lower property values. However, it is the traffic and numbers of people that Hastings said were his greatest concern.
Traffic on the tiny lane on the weekends is significant. At mid-morning on June 19, close to 70 vehicles were parked at the ball field complex with many coming and going between games.
“It was an ill-conceived plan,” said son Kevin Hastings who is an attorney. “His (Beckett’s) history has been makeshift and non-compliant. He makes his priority baseball.”
The Hastings stated that if Beckett did receive a CUP at the hearing, tentatively scheduled for August 11, they will appeal and move for a public nuisance complaint in superior court.
Local business people are hopeful that Beckett can somehow surmount his legal trouble and stay open.
Bob Boule, owner of the Smuggler’s Inn in Blaine has been very supportive of Beckett’s project. “Bill Beckett is bringing good to our area,” said Boule, adding “and kids from around the state are needing places to play.”
Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic, who had written in support of Beckett to Kremen, has been aware of the concerns of neighbors and the county but because Spooner Creek is outside of Blaine’s city limits, they were beyond his purview.
“The city is interested in any activity that brings potential customers to our area,” Tomsic stated in an email, “Mr. Beckett’s facilities do that.”
County executive Kremen was not unsympathetic to that viewpoint but insists that Beckett needs to live up to his earlier promises to bring the operation into compliance.
“I would like nothing more than for him to legally and legitimately operate those fields,” Kremen stated, “but he has used children and baseball to gain sympathy, to gain support and to make money.”
Whatcom County senior planner Suzanne Bosman echoed Kremen’s sentiments.
“The county recognizes the valuable contribution of the ball fields,” said Bosman, “we aren’t against baseball for kids. We just want the Becketts to comply with county zoning laws like everyone else.”
Though he has already amassed fines of over $12,000, Beckett has made it clear that he will continue to hold games at the site. “We’re losing money every day we play,” said Beckett, “but we’re going to fulfill our obligations to patrons who have already paid to play.”
Currently, Spooner Creek Promotions charges teams $595 per tournament. Beckett, however, said he was undaunted in his resolve. “I refuse to apologize for being on the right side of good.”