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Tuesday, August 22nd

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.

Carolyn Morrison
Clerk of the Council
San Juan County Council

Monday, August 21st

Final Outcome On ADUs Still In Question

To the Editor:

The Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board issued a decision Friday lifting its finding of invalidity based upon the new ADU ordinance enacted in June. The Board has yet to rule whether that new ordinance or the so called "vesting" ordinance enacted shortly thereafter actually meet the requirements of the Growth Management Act. The Growth Board hearing on the ADU ordinance is currently scheduled for early November.

The County appealed from the Board's original decision and, until late 2005, continued to defend the right of property owners to have guest houses. That appeal is now pending before the Court of Appeals in Tacoma, which has been poised to rule for more than a year and the stay expires at the end of this month. The County Attorney recently informed the Court of Appeals that the "lifting of invalidity" action would not cause the issue under appeal to be "moot" and urged the County Council to pursue a final Appeals Court decision. Clallam County and several "friends of the court" agree and urged the court to issue a decision.

Therefore, the question of whether all property owners with land in designated "rural" or "resource" areas could be allowed to have a detached guesthouse as well as a principal residence on lots smaller than 10 acres remains unanswered by the courts.

When the County ordinance was originally challenged by the Friends of the San Juans they argued that allowing ADUs on all rural parcels would effectively double the density. The County took the position that only 16% of all developed parcels have historically opted to construct ADUs. The Growth Board has already decided that the County can allow all rural parcels to have an attached or internal ADU. On Friday the Board went a step further by allowing the County to issue permits for detached ADUs provided they don't exceed 12% of the total number of building permits issued for the prior year, In effect the Growth Board has apparently rejected the original argument that allowing ADUs effectively doubles the density provided that the County places a 12% annual limit only on the number of detached ADUs that are allowed.

The Growth Board Order lifting invalidity was clearly based on the fact that the new ordinance places a "strict limit on the number of permits each year for detached ADUs". The numerous other restrictions on building location, setbacks, parcel size, distance from the main house, etc were not sited in the order as reasons for the Board's decision to lift invalidity. The Board will be considering those issues and others raised by petitioners at the November hearing.

The new ordinance is still problematical for many property owners who will be unable to meet one or more of the many new requirements and limitations for construction of a detached ADU. Numerous islanders have appeals pending before the Board regarding the new ordinance, and the Board's decision of last week will likely be appealed to Superior Court. In addition, some islanders plan to appeal the so-called "vesting" ordinance, because it does not preserve all of the rights that vested when they obtained a permit to build their guesthouse.

Because the Board's decision was based on the very narrow legal issue of continued "substantial interference" with GMA we will have to wait for the results of the November hearing to clarify whether or not the new ordinance will eventually be found fully compliant with the Growth Management Act.

Jim Nelson
Doe Bay, Orcas

Wednesday, August 16th

A Response To Gunther Letter

To the Editor:

I'd like to respond to Les Gunther's inquiry, "Why The Criticism Of The Council On Vesting?"

Mr. Gunther is absolutely right that traditionally, many families first built a guest house and then built a principal residence. He is wrong in believing that the County Council is seeking legislative relief for the "victims of governmental stupidity"--those who have a guest houses and now want to build their main house.

Mr. Gunther is overlooking the fact that the Council itself created the problem he now thinks they are trying to resolve. There was no need for the new restrictive ordinance; in fact, Council has attempted to eliminate the existing rights of property owners to build guesthouses and principal residences--a right that will exist until the appeals court rules the old ordinance that allowed guesthouses illegal, something that well-informed attorneys doubt will occur. Rather than waiting for that decision, however, the Council enacted a guesthouse ordinance that renders it virtually impossible to have a guesthouse.

After creating the dilemma for many property owners in the County, the Council began work on the "vesting" ordinance. As it is written, the vesting provides relief to, at most, a handful of property owners. (I personally know no one who will be helped by the vesting ordinance.) Many remaining property owners who have planned for years to build a guesthouse and main house continue to be "victims of government stupidity."

The vesting ordinance is being criticized not because it is helping people, but rather because it helps only a select few.

Peg Manning


Tuesday, August 15th

Kalbert Is A Gem!

Dear Editor:

I want you to know what a gem you have in Mary Kalbert! I've been reading my old friend's columns online and am thrilled to read every word.

Please pass my information on to Mary so that we might get back in touch.

Many thanks!

Melissa Monroe Sellars
Oklahoma City, OK


Monday, August 14th

Garbage In, Garbage Out

I was at the same SWAC public meeting on Thursday that Piet Visser attended and made the same observations and came to the same conclusions that Piet has (Visser Column: Endgame . Even though the facilitator was asked the question, and I paraphrase, "Is this going to be like a Washington State Ferry meeting where the decision has already been made and this meeting is just a formality?" To which he answered, "No decision has been made, we are here to find out what you, the public wants." I watched a carefully choreographed presentation that left me with the impression that a decision HAS already been made. It was the little things that were left out (i.e. the available town owned land that the existing site can expand into was not shown, but the existing one acre was), the tenor of the statements made by county employees regarding the existing site and body language of some when the vote was tallied. All of these little things by themselves seem to be meaningless, but when placed together in the total picture leaves only one conclusion.

If past history of this Council is any indication of what one can expect, then I see no reason why anyone should take seriously the Dog and Pony Show of Thursday evening. The decision has more than likely already been made. There seems to be no limit on what this Council is willing to spend and ignoring the advice of their legal council and the wishes of the voters have become common place. I would hope that any decision could wait until we have the full Council seated, per the Home Rule Charter, but then I have always been a dreamer.

The meeting on Thursday was about what to do with the garbage we take in, and when I left I felt like I was taking the garbage out.

Ray Bigler
San Juan Island


Saturday, August 12th

Why The Criticism Of The Council On Vesting?

Prior to the existing density and UDW rules it was customary and legal to first build a guest house in which to live until the main dwelling was habitable. As a result many people, with full expectation that they were following the rules, proceeded to construct and occupy small cottages which would later act as accommodations for guests.

Subsequently they have been denied building permits on the basis that the present rules allow only one residence to a lot, hence they can not build a main residence. Obviously this is unfair and the County Councilors have been trying to get legislative relief for these victims of governmental stupidity.

For reasons that are beyond comprehension there has been an onslaught of criticism heaped on the Council, particularly Kevin Ranker, for their attempt to right a wrong. I do not always agree with our Councilors but on this issue they are on the side of the angles and I suggest that the critics get more information so as to understand the true situation.

Les Gunther
San Juan Island


Thursday, August 10th

Mandatory Curbside Trash Pick-Up Under Consideration For San Juan Island

Business as usual at the existing transfer station on Sutton Road on San Juan Island is going to change. The only questions are how, when, and what the impact on island residents will be. The public will have an opportunity to discuss these issues at the next meeting of the Solid Waste Advisory Committee (SWAC) at 7-9 pm on August 10 at the Mullis Senior Center. You are urged to attend to make your views known.

Two options are under consideration. One would limit public access to a new, smaller transfer station that would take garbage collected under a universal (mandatory) household curbside pick-up system for both trash and recycling. The other would be to construct a new self-haul transfer station that would provide the same level of service, in terms of hours of operation, available programs, and accessibility to the public, as the existing transfer station. Both options would likely consider either the use of the existing site or a new site all together.

The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries has determined that the existing transfer station is unsafe for its workers. The San Juan County Health Department has determined that the facility does not meet its regulatory requirements. As a result, the transfer station would need to be substantially modified to continue operations, which may not be feasible. As these modifications have not yet taken place, the existing facility is at risk of being shut down at any time.

The two options under consideration are in response to a request by the County Council to the SWAC, which consists of volunteer citizens, to study the solid waste problems at the existing transfer station on Sutton Rd. and to make a recommendation on how to best deal with solid waste and recycling on the island. SWAC has held a series of public meetings over the last several months to consider several possible solutions and to gather citizen input. SWAC has narrowed the options to the two described above. A final recommendation to the County Council will likely be made by the end of September 2006. In the meantime, the County Council has not yet taken an official position on the issue.

The exact location of a new transfer station for either the curbside or self-haul option has not been determined and is not currently under discussion. The new location would be determined based upon subsequent analysis and public meetings.

SWAC's preliminary analysis shows that the two options would cost the average household approximately the same per 32-gallon trash can. Household pick-up, which could begin almost immediately, would avoid the long delay that would occur from siting and building a new transfer station.

David Dehlendorf
San Juan Island


Tuesday, August 8th

Thank You All

Dear Friday Harbor,

I hope you are all aware of how fortunate you are to live in this benign, caring community.
I've just completed five weeks of radiation treatment for prostate cancer; twenty-five trips that would have entailed 12 hours of ferry riding each day for a twenty minute necessary treatment, if not for our local Soroptimists and the San Juan Eagles who made it a two hour daily flight to Bellingham and back home.

Thank you Vicky T., John V., George M.( I still owe you $2 bucks),Dennis W., Carlo F., Bill C.(and Tim J. for the use of the plane),Greg G., Mike F.,J ohn G. and Island Air. I am most grateful to you all for your dedicated service and sacrifice of your time to help cancer fighters cope and heal.

God Bless,

Paul Herbert
Friday Harbor


Monday, August 7th

How To Cut County Costs

To The Editor:

We were led to believe that implementation of the Charter would be budget-neutral, but recent reports suggest that the county will now have to pay $330,000 in unexpected additional personnel costs ("Home Rule will cost $337,000," July 12). In addition, the County Council's demand for private individual offices for each of the six part-time council members has greatly complicated the efforts of the county to obtain and configure sufficient office space for the county's workers, and could require the additional expenditure of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.

After observing the behavior of the County Council over the past seven months, I had a few ideas for offsetting those costs:

First, all the County Council members elected in November will be paid $32,000 per year, the amount determined by the Salary Commission as appropriate for their part-time service to the county. Although they will be doing the same work as those elected in November, two council members (Lichter and Ranker) will each be paid $70,000 per year for the remaining years of their terms, simply because they were elected a few weeks before the charter went into effect. While these two council members have a legal right to receive $38,000 per year more than their peers, it would be a wonderful gesture for them to decline what is, in actuality, a $38,000-per-year windfall at taxpayers' expense. This would reduce the county's unanticipated personnel costs by $76,000 in each of their remaining term years, or $152,000 total.

Second, given the dire shortage of space currently available to county workers responsible for indispensable functions such as law enforcement, health and safety, and the projected costs of resolving that shortage, the County Council should abandon its demand for six separate offices for the part-time council in the existing space and consider sharing one or two offices in the Carlson building, with individual cubicles, instead. This would facilitate the reconfiguration of county space in less time and at lower cost, and would provide mission-critical full-time county employees, who have labored for years in cramped quarters, the space they need to do their jobs.

Third, since the council routinely ignores the prosecuting attorney's (unquestionably relevant and appropriate) legal advice in favor of councilmembers' pre-conceived legal "opinions," the county should formally eliminate the position of prosecuting attorney and remove the associated salary costs from the budget. The county will need that money (and much more) soon enough to clean up the mess that this council has made.

Peg Manning


Thursday, August 3rd

Where Are The County Council Candidates?

Letter to the Editor

For those that follow county governance issues, I'm sure many are disappointed that three of the four council positions will be uncontested this November. I, for one, am quite pleased at the caliber of candidates that HAVE stepped forward.

Incumbent Bob Mhyr has chosen to continue to serve, despite the reduced salary set by the Salary Commission called for by the new Charter.
Gene Knapp, Rich Peterson, Albert Hall and Howie Rosenfeld are all bright, thoughtful men of varied backgrounds and political philosophies with proven abilities. They all care about the future of our community.

Naysayers predicted that such a strong field of candidates wouldn't be possible with the reduced compensation now mandated by the Charter. Uncertainty about the courthouse dynamics and work loads of the expanded six-person Council undoubtedly discouraged potential candidates as well.

I'm confident that these men (where are the women candidates?) will serve us well. Let them know how you feel about the issues we face.

David Bayley
Roche Harbor


To Lichter & Ranker: Less Would Be Better!

To the Editor:

My hat is off to Mr. Ranker and Mr. Lichter. They have managed to alienate their electorate, and their fellow elected officials.

With one phone call I have learned that Whatcom County does not supply their seven Council Members with a private office. I already knew that Friday Harbor does not supply each Council member with a private office. Why are our Council Members even discussing the matter?

Mr.. Lichter has now decided that he has heard enough "whining" from the people he is supposed to be listening to. He has claimed that he wishes to get on with a multi-million dollar project without reaching the slightest agreement with those that are most affected.

Further more Mr. Ranker and Mr. Lichter have chosen, more than once, to ignore the advice of their legal council. That is the legal council that we, the voters, have duly elected to represent them. They have even attempted to instruct that legal council to do something that the legal council has deemed illegal.

It is apparent that these guys are working very hard attempting to get their selfish agendas accomplished.

I would suggest that Mr.. Ranker, and Mr.. Lichter, do nothing until such time that we, the people, are represented on the Council. I am sure the voters of all political parties in San Juan County would be happier, and would benefit.

Bill LaPorte
Friday Harbor

(Bill LaPorte is a former SJ County Commissioner and Mayor of Friday Harbor)


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