Opinion

Don’t be fooled by CAO smokescreen | Letter to the editor

In the current public debate about the county’s efforts to update our existing Critical Areas Ordinance, some opponents of increased protections of critical areas have used scare tactics to advance their agenda by spreading the false claim that current owners, as well as prospective purchasers, of legally nonconforming properties, will have difficulty obtaining mortgage loans and homeowners insurance.

Don’t be fooled.

These claims are completely false.

Legally nonconforming status applies to structures and uses that were in compliance with our county’s land use laws at the time the structures were built, or the uses, such as farming, were initiated, but which would not be in compliance today if updates to these laws were to be applied retroactively.

Fortunately, this is not the case, as the occupation of legally nonconforming structures can be maintained, and if destroyed by fire or other disaster, such structures can be rebuilt.

Also, activities such as farming can continue unchanged by any updates to the CAO.

Recently I contacted Islanders Bank, Key Bank, Wells Fargo, Swanberg-Judkins Insurance, Islanders Insurance, Chicago Title, and the county’s assessor’s office. In all cases, I was told that whether a property is legally conforming or nonconforming is not even considered in the decision to approve or deny an application for financing or insurance, nor in the process of writing the title on the property, or in assessing its value.

In fact, these institutions do not even inquire if a property is legally nonconforming.

In view of these facts, I have encouraged the County Council to ignore this issue in its future deliberations and not to weaken the CAO’s nonconforming uses provision under the mistaken idea that these false opinions are true.

I also urge the public not to let these false claims influence your opinions about the CAO update.

David Dehlendorf

San Juan Island

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