Committee questions code enforcement role

By Meg Olson


Members of the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee (PRCAC) are reconsidering what role they should play in ensuring compliance with county code.

“There’s nothing that says this committee is in charge of code violations, and I don’t think we are,” said Jennifer Urquhart at the committee’s December 8 meeting, adding many community members “don’t want us turning in our neighbors.”

With the character plan itself unclear on the issue, the committee has turned to county executive Jack Louws for guidance.

The committee made a big step into code enforcement at their October meeting by drawing up a list of perceived code violations on the Point, some of them brought forward by community members and others by committee members. Eleven code violation reports, accompanied by a cover letter from the committee. were submitted to Whatcom County Planning and Development Services (PDS) by committee chair Arthur Reber

At the time, committee members were in agreement with the move, though John Lesow did ask, “How come we have to do this? Why not PDS staff?” Reber replied the committee had taken on the role of watchdog at the request of county staff.

The committee’s November meeting was effectively shut down by Shawn McSkimmings, who angrily accused the members of violating his privacy rights by taking pictures of his property, and asserting that the committee had no mandate to involve itself in land use violations.

By the December meeting committee members had a range of disparate views, from Urquhart’s view that the committee should stay out of code violations to Lesow’s contention that, as the liaison with the county and the committee responsible for evaluating applications for character plan compliance, they had a role because “nobody in the community has a standing in this regard.”

Lesow put forward a motion that the committee “only involve ourselves in code violations for commercial and industrial uses, specifically that we don’t involve ourselves in residential code violations.” The motion mirrors the applicability of the character plan itself to exclude single-family homes.

Louise Mugar pointed out that the residential complaint submitted by the committee had originally come from concerned neighbors. “They came to us because the county didn’t respond,” she pointed out, and due to its function as county liaison the committee had a duty to follow up. “If people come forward with a complaint that is not being addressed we should respond with a letter to the county asking for a response,” Reber said.

In concurrence with Lesow, Mugar said the character plan advisory committee should follow up when violations such as illegal sign replacements occurred. “These are violations of the character plan, and we should be doing something about it,” she said.

Urquhart put forward a motion to table Lesow’s motion and ask for clarification from the county executive as to what their role should be. Committee members approved her motion to table, with Lesow opposing it.

The original character plan, adopted in 1994, stated that the “sole purpose of the advisory committee is to examine building permit applications and make recommendations as to their compliance.” The current version of the plan, modified most recently in 2013 when PRCAC stepped into the role, replaces the word “sole” with “pertinent.” Both versions state, “The advisory committee is not involved in any other enforcement process.”

However, the newest version of the sign ordinance, part of the character plan, has an added section on enforcement, which county planner Nick Smith said was the basis of their turning to the committee to report perceived violations.

It reads “To assist the county in code enforcement, the Character Plan Advisory Committee may advise the County of what it believes are violations to the Point Roberts Character Plan. Alleged violations shall be decided by a democratic vote of the Committee and submitted in writing to Whatcom County Code Enforcement.”

“From the County’s standpoint, the best way we can investigate alleged code violations is to have an individual or the PRCAC formally submit a code violation report (CVR) form,” Smith said. “Once a CVR is received, staff can then formally document, prioritize and begin the process of investigating an alleged issue. Higher prioritized (i.e. life and safety) issues do take precedence over potentially lesser code compliance issues.”

Arden Landry with the county executive’s office said they were aware of the committee’s concerns and would examine the different roles the character plan sets out for the committee.

“If there’s something that needs to be made consistent we’ll look into it,” Landry said.

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