Tenant’s death leaves port in awkward position 

The Port of Kennewick is in an awkward position after the death of a tenant who held a lifetime right to occupy port-owned property in east Kennewick.

Audrey Bouton died Sept. 14 in San Tan Valley, Arizona, where she had moved to be cared for by a daughter. She was 90 and held the right to occupy a 4.5-acre site at 50 S. Verbena St. until her death.

Her death frees the port to use the site, which is near the Kennewick Sewage Treatment Plant, in accordance with its industrial zoning.

But there’s a snag: People still live in the modest structures that dot the site, which also includes a barn, corral and several horses.

The port’s elected commissioners discussed the next steps at their Nov. 10 regular business meeting.

Technically, anyone living on the property without a lease or paying rent is, as one commissioner characterized it, squatting. The port confirmed there are no tenants and that it does not receive rent from anyone on the property.

But it wants to be kind. Amber Hanchette, the port’s real estate manager, notes that during a pandemic, evictions are off the table.

“We won’t kick them out for the holidays,” she said. She said residents understand they need to clear out and some have planned to move – an ideal outcome that avoids formal eviction and relocation procedures.

Tim Arntzen, the port’s chief executive officer, said Verbena is of little use and generates “maximum headaches.”

But back in 2000, it made sense to buy industrial land near the Columbia River, where the port has extensive real estate holdings.

Audrey Faragher-Davis-Bouton and Char Davis sold it to William and Joan Lewis in 1999 for $125,000. The Lewises owned a manufactured neighborhood next door. They wanted to expand Lewis’ Country River Estates into the Bouton land.

The Kennewick City Council rejected the Lewises’ application for a rezone to residential use because of its proximity to the sewage treatment plant and opposition from the port. Their plan dashed, the Lewises approached the port with an offer to sell.

It bought the sliver of land near the Columbia River for $141,000 and agreed to honor Audrey Bouton’s life estate right to live in her 1930s-built home, part of the original sale to the Lewis family.

Hanchette said port workers have responded to complaints regarding the site for 20 years.

Neighbors complained about overgrown trees and even snakes. It took down the trees and looked for loose reptiles.

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