Okanogan County says permits must come first
By Marcy Stamper
The property owner near the town of Methow who has amassed a dozen trailers says she hasn’t applied for county permits because she wants to be further along with her plans for a vintage trailer park so that county officials will understand what she envisions.
“I haven’t started the permit process for renting the trailers yet, so that people can visualize this first and the county can see it doesn’t look like a mess — that was important to me,” said Kim Mele, who has been working on the riverfront property, 1 mile north of Methow, since last summer.
While Mele and county building and planning officials have been at odds over her use of the property for months, Mele’s concerns over their lack of understanding about her plans are accurate.
“I don’t know if she’s planning an RV park, or a manufactured-home park, or a nightly rental, until she tells me what she’s doing — or we establish what she’s doing,” said Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston last week.
Despite sending two letters ordering Mele to cease and desist until she applies for the necessary permits, Huston said Mele has never called nor talked to him about her plans.
Huston and Okanogan County Building Official Dan Higbee sent Mele the second letter regarding what appear to be violations of county code on Nov. 18. Mele said this Tuesday (Dec. 1) that she hadn’t received the second letter yet.
The letter notes that Mele did contact Higbee after receiving the first letter in September, but had still taken no steps to apply for a building permit for two structures on the property. Complaints received by the county “would support the conclusion that you are now operating a recreational vehicle/trailer park without the necessary permits,” according to the letter.
Mele submitted a site analysis to the planning department in November. The site analysis allows planners to ensure compliance with zoning codes and setbacks from water and lot lines, said Huston.
The site analysis and building-permit process are typically done concurrently, said Huston. “We can work on the site analysis before there’s an application for a building permit, but it won’t go anywhere,” he said.
The letter orders Mele to “cease all use of the property as a recreational vehicle park or manufactured housing facility immediately. Further you may not use the unpermitted structures for any purpose until necessary permits have been obtained,” it says.
The letter gives Mele 21 days to submit necessary applications. If she believes the complaint is unfounded, she can submit a written statement. If Mele fails to respond as required, the matter will be referred to the Okanogan County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, it says.
Mele said last week that her understanding is that no permits are necessary for a building unless it is hooked up to power, water and septic. But Higbee said two buildings on the property — a 180-square-foot cottage and a larger prefabricated building — both need permits to be sure they comply with a variety of safety regulations.
“The only way to truly be a completely prefab building is with a manufactured home — someone must do an inspection, either the Building Department or L&I [the state Department of Labor & Industries] in a factory,” said Higbee. “I can’t just build a tiny house in my shop and take it to someone’s property. You must verify that it meets electrical code, floor strength, insulation. To build it first is going completely backward.”
Mele said she had purchased the cottage and the light-blue prefab structure online and had them towed to the site.
Because the Building Department’s instructions say an approved site analysis must be provided as part of the building permit, Mele said she started with that step. She said she will submit drawings and the permit application for the cottage and the blue building this week.
Although Mele has submitted the site analysis, she has not started on a binding site plan for the trailer park, said Huston. “A binding site plan identifies the spaces — how many spaces for what,” he said. A person can collect trailers as long as they are not used for lodging, said Huston.
County code contains several categories that could apply in Mele’s situation, said Huston. An RV park is established where there are designated spots for tourists to bring their own trailers. A manufactured-home park is for permanent residences.
Any plans to rent lodging to tourists — as opposed to having tourists bring their own trailers — is defined as a nightly rental and can only be created as part of a planned development, said Huston. There are additional requirements for water and septic systems.
Mele says she is not currently renting any of the trailers and has no plans to do so until everything is approved and permitted.
“I’m well aware of what needs to be done,” said Mele, who said she is working with consultants on water rights and land use. “I’m doing it all by the book — I know I need a binding site plan.”
“I want to work with the county and figure out what category it needs to go into,” said Mele.
Mele, who lives in the Seattle area and is here only part-time, said she and a friend have been staying in the trailers while they work on the property. Mele said the project is “a second career.”
Mele has put considerable work into refurbishing some of the trailers. “It’s for people who love the idea of camping — but they won’t need to bring their own trailers,” she said.
The trailers will have different themes. Mele has already started decorating one with a tiki motif, complete with bamboo curtains and palm trees repurposed from old wooden irrigation pipe. Another has an aviation theme, with dishes and silverware from old airlines, and another has a Western concept, with a saddle and fabric-cowhide curtains. “It’s like a time capsule,” said Mele.
She has created a lotus-flower sculpture from old skis, painted red and embedded in the hillside, as well as a map of the United States constructed entirely from rocks that resemble individual states. “I’m going to add miniature replicas of roadside attractions, like the giant ball of twine, the Statue of Liberty and the Space Needle,” said Mele.
Mele plans another sculpture from items salvaged from the Carlton Complex Fire to educate people about wildfire.
Septic system OK’d
Contrary to what has previously been reported, Mele did receive a permit from Okanogan County Public Health for a septic system to support eight trailers and a separate bathhouse with toilets, sinks and showers, according to Doug Hale, an environmental health specialist for Okanogan County. The bathhouse will serve five trailers that would not be hooked up to the septic system, he said. Installation of the system was completed this year.
The septic system had not been entered in the Public Health logs because it had been inspected by the septic designer and he failed to submit the final drawing, said Hale. “When a system is designed by an engineer, they are allowed to perform their own final inspection of the system, so we were unaware of the installation,” said Hale by email.
Mele said she has spent hours talking with county staff about her plans and that the county has been great to work with, but that progress has been slow because she is committed to hiring local builders and contractors, who have been hard to schedule. “I want local people to do this because I want to put my money back into the community,” she said.
“I don’t want to look like a person making waves. I want the trailers to fit within this environment,” said Mele.
Mele hopes to open the trailer park next summer.