By Marcy Stamper
Owners of property 9 miles north of Winthrop on the Chewuch River have applied for a variance to be able to keep a nonpermitted cabin that is within the 100-year-floodplain.
When James and Sherry Leuenberger purchased the property in 2005, it already had an open structure with a roof that is used as an RV cover. That 20-by-50-foot structure does have a permit, according to Okanogan County Planner Anna Randall.
Nine years ago the Leuenbergers added a 20-by-20 enclosed building, also under the RV cover, but did not obtain a permit for it, said Randall. According to their application for the variance, the Leuenbergers spoke with Okanogan County’s building inspector at the time and were told they could build whatever they wanted as long as it stayed within the existing roof line of the RV cover.
Although the structure has been there for nine years, the enclosed structure violates a prohibition against any structure for human habitation in the 100-year-floodplain in the Methow Review District, according to Randall. Buildings such as garages and sheds are permissible because they are not for habitation, but they must meet specific regulations for venting and elevation off the ground to permit floodwaters and woody debris to pass through, said Randall.
Open structures such as an RV cover without walls are also allowed. Open structures do not pose the same risk as a building with four walls because they allow inundation of floodwaters, said Randall.
Other parts of the county do allow structures for habitation in the floodplain, but those buildings must meet strict standards to allow inundation of floodwaters, she said.
The Leuenbergers, who live in Ferndale in western Washington, spend about 30 days a year in Winthrop, according to their application. There is an adjacent deck that meets county regulations. The Leuenbergers have a portable toilet on the property. No septic systems are allowed in the 100-year-floodplain without a variance, said Randall.
The existence of the enclosed building came to the attention of the county’s building department because it is an unpermitted structure, said Randall. Variance requests are handled the same way whether they are submitted in advance of construction or retroactively, said Randall. If the variance is not granted, the enclosed structure will have to be removed, she said.
The county’s hearing examiner will hold a public hearing on the Leuenbergers’ request for a variance on June 25 at 10 a.m. People may submit comments in writing or at the hearing. For more information, contact Randall at (509) 422-7117 or email@example.com.