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County readies for overhaul of land-use enforcement rules

By Steve Wehrly/Journal reporter

A new San Juan County Code Enforcement Ordinance is ready for public comment and council action.

Seven years after the former County Commission decided the code enforcement ordinance needed work, the Planning Commission presented a new draft ordinance to the County Council at a special meeting of the council on April 8.

At that meeting, the council scheduled a “Second Touch” hearing on April 23, and a public hearing and possible final passage for May 7, the last meeting of the six-person council before the recently-elected three-member council takes office.

The regulations implement enforcement and appeals procedures, and reduced penalties, for violations of the county unified development code, which includes county laws on land development, remodeling, shoreline protection and the critical areas ordinances.

Enforcement of the county’s building and construction codes are also affected by the code enforcement ordinance.

Code enforcement procedures have been a source of complaints and dissatisfaction in the building community since the current enforcement ordinance was passed in 1998. According to Rene Beliveau, director of Community Development and Planning Department, builders and developers told him and the planning commission that notice of violation procedures were unclear, penalty provisions excessive, and correction and remediation methods unwieldy. All of these problems have been addressed in the proposal, Beliveau said.

A $2,300 up-front filing fee for appeals of land use decisions, originally designed to discourage frivolous appeals, has been a particular sore spot for builders and developers. The council is expected to reduce that fee separately.

Prohibiting third parties from intervening directly in appeals of violations was also suggested by the planning commission and included in the new code by the council.

The proposed ordinance reduces penalties for violations, many of them by half, and provides for time to cure or correct violations before penalties or additional penalties are imposed. Double penalties are imposed for repeat violations, and triple penalties for Shoreline Master Program violations are also included. In addition, stop work orders, emergency orders, liens, and suspension or revocation of permits are rewritten.

The planning commission, which has worked on the draft for two years, recommended the final version with only one “no” vote on one section of the proposal.

That kind of near-unanimity, after all the contentiousness of the CAO review, should result in final passage by the council on May 7, probably the last major act of the 6-person council.

 

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