Calls Increase for Reform in the County’s Development Services Office

We have seen it time and again. The County’s Development Services Department fails to meet its regulatory requirements with respect to review of development applications, notification of parties concerned, application of the Critical Area Ordinance, use of the Shorelines Master Program, adherence to timelines. . . the list goes on and on.

Are resident Mary Skelton is right, when she said, “The county Department of Development Services isn’t doing its job.”

Kaye V. Ladd, in a recent Letter the Editor, wrote:

In my neighborhood, they [County Development Services] approved a single family residence on a rural waterfront lot with about half of the dry land area required by the SMP [Shorelines Master Program]. Using an erroneous calculation and without a hearing, the county planner reduced the 50-foot required setback to 37 feet. She did not notify adjacent property owners of this decision or of the appeal period.

In the end, Ladd paid her money, spent her time to do the work the County staff had failed to do, and succeeded in an appeal to the County Commissioners. Wouldn’t it have been better if the County had done their work correctly, in the first place?

In our own neighborhood, we’re accumulating an increasing list of examples of not just poor judgment, but outright ineptitude, on the part of County staff in Development Services.

The problem is not limited to the performance of the County staff, either. The Seattle attorney with whom the county contracts, for services as a Hearing Examiner, has passed on applications and set precedent which ought to be very troubling to residents on the Steamboat Island Peninsula.

Most recently, for example, the Hearing Examiner dismissed any concerns regarding suitability with respect to the rural setting, when he approved the application for a Tennis Club. While there was support for an athletic facility at the corner of Steamboat Island Road and Sexton, the Hearing Examiner ruled essentially that, provided only that no more than 60% of the property were impervious surface, a building of any size is just fine out here.

Think about the implications. If you are on residential land, and your neighbor owns 40 acres, she can build a 24-acre building right next door. The Tennis Club is nearly 3-stories in height, so let’s make that 24-acre building about 3-stories tall, too. All your neighbor needs to do is qualify for a Special Use Permit, and she can convert her residentially-zoned property to commercial use. The county’s Hearing Examiner will give no weight to an argument that a building of that size is urban in nature, and not rural.

At least one County Commissioner with whom we spoke, regarding the performance of the Hearing Examiner told us that no complaints – not one – about the Hearing Examiner has ever reached the ears of the Commissioners.

How long will the County Commissioners continue to issue toothless admonishments to County staff to “do better” and overrule staff decisions that ought never to have been made, in the first place?

How long much longer will the Commissioners continue to renew the contract with the Seattle law firm that provides this county’s Hearing Examiner?

We’re seeing these kinds of problems with the Conference Center application. The performance of county staff has affected development along fragile shorelines, and it’s getting harder and harder to ignore (see “Development projects require better scrutiny,” at the bottom of this page).

How many more Aloha Lumber projects will we see on our peninsula? In that instance, Aloha Lumber was allowed to clear every stick of wood from a 30+ acre parcel, behind the Main Fire Station, for development. They application stipulated reforestation. When they didn’t re-plant, the County staff responded that was fine with them; the County failed to stipulate that Aloha Lumber do what the company said it would, in the original forestry application.

That’s just dumb and it’s just not right.

When will our elected County Commissioners take action to bring these bumbling bureaucrats to heel? When will we get a Development Services Department that doesn’t shoot itself in the foot, so often? We’re losing fragile habitat, jeopardizing the value of our property, and our quality of life is being lost, through the inept actions of these poorly-trained paper-pushers.

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