County juggles competing priorities

By Meg OlsonCode-Violations01

While pursuing run-of-the-mill code violations may not be a high priority in the eyes of Whatcom County, it certainly appears so for members of the Point Roberts community.

For the most part, county enforcement staff go after violators based upon a system that assigns priorities based on the level of impact: high for a significant impact on safety, property and the environment; moderate for a probable though not imminent impact; and low for an impact that is neither probable nor imminent.

In response to demands from Point Roberts that the county address code violations, county planner and code compliance officer Garrett Faddis met February 17 with two dozen community members to talk about how the county intends to prioritize code enforcement on the Point.Code-Violations05

“About a month ago, it became apparent the community was experiencing a lot of frustration about the response or lack of response from our office,” Faddis began. He told the group that he had developed a community involvement program for the Maple Falls area because, like Point Roberts, residents had expressed growing exasperation with a lack of code enforcement in the area. “Maple Falls didn’t have a lot of high-priority violations according to our criteria. The fact it had a large number in total made it become a high priority in terms of its impact on the community,” he said. “Point Roberts also has a large number of complaints, and we can identify which ones are impacting the community most.”

Code enforcement staff is looking at 18 code violation reports from Point Roberts, three that were submitted in 2013 and 15 that were submitted by the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee (PRCAC) after the committee and audience members listed what they saw as high-priority code violations at their October 2014 meeting.Code-Violations02

When county staff came to Point Roberts on January 28 for an inspection tour, most of these reports did not rank as high based on the county’s current system, Faddis said.

Reber described his growing frustration as PRCAC began working with a subcommittee to revise and update the Point Roberts Character Plan, saying the community’s work seems pointless without enforcement of the existing plan. “Nobody’s even bothering to apply for a permit,” he said, while the few property owners who do follow the rules are frustrated their neighbors can get away with ignoring them.

“What we really want from you is to go to some of the most egregious violators and enforce it: fine them and shut them down. Pretty soon the word will get out…”

Faddis said that’s exactly what the county was now doing. “Of the 13 sites inspected, we’ve taken action on six,” he said. Notices of violation and penalties have been issued to the RV storage business at 386 Gulf Road, owners of the property with the bus with a deck on top across from Brewster’s, and a single-family home on Vista Way that built an addition without a permit.

Notices of violation are pending for the Shell station for its new non-conforming sign and a homeowner on Benson Road. Owners of the Code-Violations04In-N-Out parcel service on Tyee Drive are “actively pursuing” getting  their permits in line and have scheduled a pre-application meeting with county planners. As complaints are resolved, Faddis said they would turn to the community, possibly through PRCAC, to determine where the next priority lies.

The code enforcement process can be slow, Faddis added, as it needs to observe every property owner’s right to due process. “It can exist as a flagrant violation but our process remains constant.”

Subcommittee member Annelle Norman asked Faddis why county staff didn’t notice illegal and unpermitted work elsewhere on their frequent visits to Point Roberts to inspect construction of the Cottages at Seabright Farm project.

“We don’t get involved until something happens,” Faddis replied. “It’s kind of like police work. You don’t know they’re robbing the bank until the bank is robbed.”

This cut no mustard with recently appointed PRCAC member Keith Glading, who replied, “But if you drive by the bank and it’s being robbed, you stop,” said.Code-Violations03

Norman complained that the complaints now being addressed were months and years old. “Is there any way we can get your attention in a timely fashion?” she asked. Faddis assured her that the community had the county’s attention and it was due to the persistence of community members and PRCAC. “The great thing is, you didn’t stop. That’s why we’re here. Whatever develops here, what matters is clear communication.”

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