County asks for community input on code enforcement issues

By Meg Olson

With an increase in complaints about code violations in Point Roberts, Whatcom County Planning and Development Services will be asking the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee (PRCAC) to take a more active role in prioritizing enforcement activity.

“We’ve been inundated with code violation reports from Point Roberts,” said Suzanne Bosman, senior planner for Whatcom County, but she said what is a high priority according to county policy might not be the highest priority for the
community.

A high priority in county policy includes “a significant threat to public safety, property or the environment.” A moderate threat is a “probable though not imminent threat” and a low priority “does not indicate a probable or imminent threat” to those areas.

Under those guidelines, Bosman said, “A sign is typically not going to get our attention right away.” By working with PRCAC, the county hopes to build more community focus into the guidelines they use to enforce the rules on the Point.

“We understand our policy, in a small community, might not meet Point Roberts’ needs,” she said. “That’s why we want to work with the community. We want to know what you consider a high priority.”

Bosman said she had contacted committee member John Lesow to ask if the committee could discuss how it might perform that role at its next meeting.

While three new faces on PRCAC might change the picture, the committee has previously struggled with what its role should be regarding code enforcement.

“I’d like to suggest the committee not impose its personal opinion,” said Jennifer Urquhart at their January 13 meeting. “The role of the committee is to be most effective by acting in an impartial way.”

Lesow put forward a motion that the committee limit its involvement in code enforcement activities to commercial and industrial uses, not residential uses. “We need to divorce ourselves from the idea we’re going around sending in complaints about people whose yards we don’t like,” he said.

Committee chair Arthur Reber said while the committee should not be in the business of reporting code violations, they should be ready to advocate for citizens who do.

“We don’t submit code violation reports (CVRs), but we are welcome to submit a letter of support,” he said, and he disagreed with Lesow about limiting that support to complaints about commercial and industrial uses. “I don’t see any reason this committee would not want to provide support to someone with a complaint about a residence,” he said.

Urquhart and committee member Joel Lantz were uncomfortable with the idea of supporting a specific CVR, but were in favor of Reber’s suggestion the committee could “write a letter asking the county to do their job,” if a community member felt a reported violation wasn’t getting attention, whether the violation was residential or not. Lesow’s motion failed.

Reporting from the character plan review committee, Annelle Norman suggested an amendment to the plan that would have residences in the resort commercial zone and the commercial core be subject to the requirements of the character plan.

“Some concern was expressed that a major piece of resort commercial property has been consumed by a very large residence,” she said. The character plan currently applies only to “commercial and institutional use structures and appurtenant signage.”

Norman said the amendment would have residences in those zones conform to height and mass restrictions, in order to encourage harmonious development. Urquhart pointed out, “a residence can be converted to another use.”

Overall, committee members were uncomfortable sending the change through as a text amendment. “This is a major step,” Reber said. “I’d like to see it part of a larger review.” The proposal was referred to county planning for review.

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