Smith property to be auctioned by creditors

Stephen Floyd

The odds of a debris pile in Winlock being cleaned up by beleaguered developer Phil Smith appear to be slimmer as an auction to sell the property in question has been scheduled for later this June.

Though Smith has been urged by both the City of Winlock and Lewis County since last year to clean up the pile (the remains of a two-story house left at under-developed subdivision Grand Prairie Mountain View Estates), Smith's creditors have since filed a notice of trustee's sale with the county seeking to recover more than $900,000 Smith owes in principal, interest and fees, as of January.

According to documents originally filed Jan. 9 and re-filed March 2 on behalf of Valley High Investments, Smith has failed to honor his loan payments since last August while also failing to pay related property taxes for 2014. The re-filed notice said Smith has until June 8 to bring himself out of default status, or the undeveloped portions of the subdivision will be sold at auction on June 19.

Winlock Mayor Lonnie Dowell stated he is concerned this means no effort will be made by Smith at this time to remove the debris pile, as the auction described in the notice would sell the property "as is" without warranty, meaning the debris, if left at the site, would become the responsibility of the new owner.

City officials have said they are concerned about the ongoing public health hazard posed by the debris pile and, at their March 9 City Council meeting, said they would like City Attorney Erin Hillier to re-open conversations with Smith about its removal. While Dowell said it remains an option for the city to remove the debris themselves, he said this would likely cost Winlock around $20,000 to $30,000 with little opportunity to recover their expenses.

Winlock had previously issued a stop work order halting development of the property last September because of the debris pile, while Lewis County cited Smith's company, Grand Prairie Mountain View Estates LLC, for solid waste violations twice last June, and again on Feb. 13 and March 11.

In these more recent citations, the fee for the violation had been doubled to $514 because, though Smith had pleaded committed to the pair issued last year, he has yet to pay the fines and the violation remains ongoing. Lewis County District Court has also confirmed Smith has yet to respond to the more recent citations and corresponding court dates have yet to be scheduled.

According to Lewis County Code Enforcement Officer Bill Teitzel, the original citations issued to Smith's company will remain his responsibility to address, not whomever acquires the property, but said the new owner would also be obligated to remove the debris or face similar citations.

When attempting to contact Smith regarding this report, he has yet to return multiple requests from Town Crier for comment.

When he purchased Grand Prairie Mountain View Estates in February of 2013, Smith told officials at the time he was intending to aggressively develop and advertise the subdivision and take advantage of expected upturns in the housing market. More recently he has begun marketing the lots as un-built parcels and previously has said his ability to continue developing the property depends on how many lots he is able to sell.