Code complaints dubbed a witchhunt

By Meg Olson

A flurry of county citations for code violations has some community members crying foul.
“We have a witch hunt going on,” Darrell Cassidy told the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee (PRCAC) at their January 10 meeting.
Cassidy’s was among 25 properties identified by a single complainant who submitted a series of code violation reports to the county. Suzanne Bosman, senior planner with Whatcom County said the complaints were “regarding parcels in Point Roberts being used as recreational campgrounds consisting of RVs, detached structures and the storage of personal belongings.” She added that “supposedly, the person (who submitted the complaints) solicited help from several other people in Point Roberts who drove around and documented the violations.”
In October, staff began site inspections and issued notices of violation. “Many of the sites have already been brought into compliance and others, due to extenuating circumstances, have been given extensions.”
Land use in Point Roberts is governed by county code, but also includes an overlay – the Point Roberts Special District or section 20.72. While the overall county code for rural zones allows recreational vehicles on undeveloped lots outright, the special district does not. “If the code is more restrictive in the special district you have to go with that,” said senior planner Nick Smith. Under the special district rules, RVs may only stay on an undeveloped lot for a maximum of two weeks unless they receive an administrative approval, which allows a longer stay.
“There’s a reason this exists, it didn’t occur out of thin air,” PRCAC chair Joel Lantz said. “Somewhere along the line, citizens got together, I assume, and said ‘we need to do something about all these RVs.’”
Spurred by the Point Roberts Registered Voters Association, county council approved adding a section to the special district in 2000, requiring administrative approval for recreational vehicles on vacant land. The approval process would ensure adequate services existed for occupancy.
“We can change the overlay,” said Lantz, who is also president of the voters’ association. “Maybe we just need to get together as a community and change 20.72.” Lantz said PRCAC would not take a position on whether or not to change the code and allow RVs, but would coordinate the process and gather information if that was the public will.
Tom O’Brien, who also received a notice of violation for structures on his property, said he was less concerned with bringing his property into compliance than the idea of community members turning in their neighbors. “It’s the manner in which it was done that’s suspect,” he said. O’Brien said pictures submitted to the county by the complainant were obviously taken while trespassing on private property, and the county was using dubiously obtained photos to pursue violators.
Other audience members at the PRCAC meeting shared O’Brien’s unhappiness for how the alleged violations came to the county’s attention. Cassidy offered to spearhead a campaign to get neighbors to talk to each other before going to the county. “If you have a problem with something next door, talk to me,” he said. A cooperative rather than a punitive approach to solving community problems was “what Point Roberts should be.”

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