08/22/2006: "ADU Decision Lifting Invalidity: Council Pleased"
On Friday, August 18, the Western Growth Management Hearings Board issued Order No. 03-2-0003c, lifting the invalidity of San Juan County's rules for detached accessory dwelling units (ADU's), also called guest houses, in rural and resource areas. The action of the Board was in regard to Ordinance 7-2006, which was approved on June 8, 2006. A motion to lift invalidity came from the County on June 21st and the Board held its hearing a month later. "The County Council is very pleased with this decision," said Council Chair Alan Lichter. "It is a victory for the people of San Juan County."
The practical meaning of the decision is that citizens will be able to apply for a detached accessory dwelling unit for the first time in many years. An application will be subject to the conditions embedded in the ordinance including, but not limited to restrictions on size, number of new and converted units per year, distance from the main residence, parking, sharing of driveways and utilities and rules to protect the most sensitive open-space features of the site.
"This is great news for our community," said County Councilmember Kevin Ranker. "For the first time in eight years, the people of San Juan County can legally build a guest house and we can stop spending time and money in court and get back to putting our energy toward our communities." The Council has determined that the permits will be issued on a first come, first served basis, and has delegated the development of rules to the Community Development and Permitting Department. Based on a percentage calculation, the rules will permit 13 new units and two conversions of existing legal accessory buildings (such as bunk houses) this year. Director Ron Henrickson has begun work on those rules and the County will announce the date of permit availability within a few weeks.
Councilmember Bob Myhr summed up his perspective on the decision. "I am pleased that our extensive effort to craft a local solution for guest houses (ADU's) has been found valid by the Growth Board. Our ADU ordinance is in keeping with the 2004 advisory ballot in which 73% of our citizens expressed their desire for the right to build detached guest houses. With this Growth Board decision, and subject to an annual number of permits, our citizens can now build a freestanding guest house, but in a manner that protects the scenic and natural values of our rural landscapes."
The legal journey for guest houses may not yet be over. The Western Growth Management Hearings Board decision has a 30-day appeal period prior to the decision being final. There are also several petitions for review of the ordinance that will likely be combined and heard by the Board in November. The original San Juan County ordinance that was found years ago to be non-compliant had also progressed to the level of the Appeals Court. Its decision is currently being held on a stay until August 30, 2006. In the coming days, the County Council may consider requesting dismissal of that case.
Despite the possibility of continuing legal hurdles, the mood was positive at the Courthouse. For the first time in eight years, one of a handful of Comprehensive Plan issues of non-compliance has been resolved. ADU permits can be issued and efforts can be put toward the remaining issues.
Clerk of the Council
San Juan County Council