08/31/2005: "It's Time To Allow Guest Houses"
By Commissioner Kevin Ranker
I believe that it is time to stop litigating and start working cooperatively to find a solution that allows guest houses to be constructed, while maintaining our rural quality.
Like a majority of our community, I feel very strongly that guest houses should be allowed. Over 70% of San Juan County residents voted to support guest houses for single family residences subject to restrictions including size, location and proximity to the main residence.
On July 21, 2005 the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB) ruled that around 30 homeowners in the county would be prohibited from building their main house after building a guesthouse first. This was San Juan County's fourth consecutive loss on the "guest house issue."
Last year the Board of County Commissioners chose once again to appeal the case, this time to the State Court of Appeals. We are now awaiting that decision. There can be absolutely no assurance that we will not lose again. We have, at best, a 40-50 percent chance of winning this last appeal.
If we lose this next round, we will lose the opportunity to build any new guest houses without meeting the density required for a second home.. While some would say it is wise to wait to see what the court decides, I believe this is too great a risk to take. If we settle this matter now, before the court decision, we can move forward, as a community, with guest houses.
This is a timely issue. With the Court of Appeals decision due any week now; we can not wait to settle this matter. While I would rather we have our District 3 representative in place during this first round of discussions, waiting, even a few weeks, could be devastating if a negative court decision comes down during that time. Further, settlement is only the first step and does not finalize the issue. Any settlement requires the Board to hold public hearings. Everyone in San Juan County will have a chance to weigh in on this important decision. Following the hearings and adoption of changes, the changes will be presented to the GMHB for approval. Our new District 3 commissioner will be a full participant in the consideration and adoption of any changes.
A settlement will also help those people affected by the most recent GMHB decision. As it stands now, that decision closed the door for persons who had built a guest house first and planned to build a main house later. A settlement now could allow them to qualify for a guest house next year, therefore opening the door for their new construction.
Last year, during my campaign I pledged to "work with the individuals involved in this case and the Friends of the San Juans to negotiate a settlement that will allow our citizens to build guest houses and that will be found compliant by the Growth Management Hearings Board." This is still my goal.