AK: Community fights back against Seldovia land buyouts

Zane Henning with Backer's Island in the background. (Photo by Quinton Chandler/KBBI)
Zane Henning, a friend of Greg Davis, with Backer’s Island in the background. (Photo by Quinton Chandler/KBBI)

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Over the last eight years, a California man has snatched up dozens of parcels of land in the small community of Seldovia, on Kachemak Bay.

His work on that property has dragged him into legal disputes with the city of Seldovia and some of his neighbors.

During Greg Davis’ first years in Seldovia, residents were concerned about the amount of property he was buying, but they weren’t overly alarmed.

Bretwood Higman says he met Davis about five years ago. He didn’t see him much after that, but Higman’s father became good friends with Davis. Then in the summer of 2015, Higman says Davis’ tone in town started to change.

(Photo by Quinton Chandler/KBBI)
The city of Seldovia considers this a public road and is suing Greg Davis to restore access to it. (Photo by Quinton Chandler/KBBI)

“He seemed to have this vision, and he talked about this, this vision of improving Seldovia and coming in from the outside buying…he talks about buying properties because they were ugly and improving them, cleaning them up,” Higman said.

Davis owns 42 pieces of property, inside and outside of Seldovia city limits, through his family business Precious Earth. Seldovians say that’s a lot of land for one man, especially in a town that recorded a population of only 233 people in 2014.

“To make it into a soundbite: he came and tried to buy a town and it doesn’t want to be bought,” Higman said.

Higman’s family owns beach property surrounded by Davis’ land. They can access it by water and by walking the beach during low tide. But for about 35 years, Higman says, the family has mainly used a trail that crosses Davis’ land.

Higman says Davis recently told his family he didn’t want them to use the trail anymore. Last year, Davis put up a no trespassing sign. Higman’s mother crossed Davis’ property at least twice after that but the police declined to intervene. Higman says from there, things escalated.

“He sent this email where he lays out very clearly this threat of physical violence, that he would take the law into his own hands and he’s threatening that against my family,” Higman said.

Most other residents in town agree. Jeremiah Campbell bought the Boardwalk Hotel in Seldovia about three years ago. He says Davis made a lot of other residents mad when he burned down a historic cabin that sat on his Backer’s island property. He says it wasn’t environmentally friendly.

“(He) burned it for a period of about four days, just a plume of black smoke,” Campbell said. “The community wasn’t real happy with that.”

There are also hard feelings over a road Davis was building out to the island. Residents worried the work could damage critical habitat. Davis and a friend also blocked part of what the city considers to be a public road after discovering it cut through a corner of one of his properties.

The city of Seldovia ordered them to move the barricades, and they refused. Now the city is suing to force them to comply.

“Property lines in Seldovia are weird like a lot of small towns in Southeast and stuff,” Campbell said. “So a lot of folks have gotten together and said, ‘hey, no harm no foul. If you’re good I’m good and we’ll just let it be. You’ve got your shed on my property my fence is on your property.’”

But, Campbell says, Greg Davis doesn’t feel the same way.

Davis himself didn’t want to be interviewed for this story, but he wrote in an email that his mission is, “to as quickly as possible, create the greatest good, for the most people…”

Zane Henning is one of Davis’ only supporters in town. He’s the friend who helped Davis set up the barricades. He says there’s nothing wrong with what they did because it isn’t a road, it’s private property.

“When you own property, you can do with it what you want as long as it’s within the regulations of the city code….property rights and property boundaries have been embedded in our constitution,” Henning said.

(Photo courtesy Bretwood Higman)
(Photo courtesy Bretwood Higman)

Henning says he and his wife live right in front of the property Davis and the city are fighting over. They don’t understand why so much of the town doesn’t like Davis.

“Because there’s been this underlying tone throughout town…it’s not underlying it’s clear and above board,” Henning said. “I mean everybody makes statements all the time that they don’t like Greg Davis.”

Henning says some of that dislike goes back to the amount of property Davis owns.

“There was 42 people that didn’t want to be here anymore and Greg bought their properties. It’s great for them. He likes real estate. He thinks that this is one of the most beautiful places he’s ever been in the world. And so he’s buying property,” Henning said. “He’s got the money to buy the property and when he gets a good deal on a piece of property, he buys it. I don’t see the negative.”

Higman says Davis is basically fighting a battle against the town and he has no idea how it’s going to end.

“I think the thing that Greg completely doesn’t see and I wish he could is that Seldovia is a pretty awesome place,” Higman said. “We’ve been doing alright.”

Higman says if Davis felt the same, he might have a better relationship with his neighbors.