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Council strikes down surcharge on permits for beefy homes

Bigger might not necessarily be better when it comes to the size of a home. But it won't cost any extra when you pay for a permit to build one in San Juan County.

The County Council on Tuesday reversed an earlier decision and eliminated a so-called surcharge on building permits for homes of more than 3,500 square feet. That surcharge would also have applied to an addition of an existing home that bumped its size beyond that 3,500-square-foot mark.

The surcharge had been slated to take effect at the beginning of the year, but remained in limbo following advice from the prosecuting attorney that a surcharge based solely on size would be on shaky legal ground.

The surcharge had been approved by the council late last year when the 2009 budget was adopted, along with an overall 5 percent increase on building and land-use permits. It had been slated to take effect at the beginning of the year, but remained in limbo on the advice from the prosecuting attorney that a surcharge based solely on size would be on shaky legal ground.

The council also struck down an additional $100 fee on shoreline development permits, which was intended to pay for the inspection of waterfront projects once they had been completed. That fee also had been approved by the council late last year.

Objections about the surcharge were raised by the San Juan Builders Association shortly after it was approved. John Evans of Orcas Island, director of the association and a former county commissioner, insisted that it violated state law in that amounts to an extra fee with no relation to any standard or criteria normally used by the county in determining the price of a permit.

In response, Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord advised the council that the association's objections had merit. Gaylord said if it were contested in court that the burden of proof would fall on the county to demonstrate that the surcharge had been set by following its standard "cost allocation" equation.

The surcharge would have added roughly $800 onto a permit for a $1 million home and, had it been in effect in 2008, applied to about a dozen permits — roughly 9 percent of the total number of applications the county received a year ago.

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