Miller agrees to pursue permits for site restoration
Mark Miller, who’s been working on a peninsula of land on the Methow River, told Okanogan County’s hearing examiner that he didn’t think he needed permits to simply restore roads and rebuild a structure that burned in the 2014 Carlton Complex Fire.
Miller was appealing a May 30 order from Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston that he stop all work at the property until he obtained permits to work in the shoreline environment.
At the appeal hearing on Thursday (July 11), Miller said he wants to apply for the permits. He appealed the order to be able to continue repairing the irrigation system, which he needs to restore habitat that burned in the fire, he said.
While Miller contended he’d believed permits were unnecessary, he said most statements the county made when it told him to stop work on the property north of the town of Methow were true.
The only requirement Miller asked to have excused from Huston’s order was that the restoration plan be prepared by a qualified biologist and licensed engineer, which he called “redundant” with other parts of the order.
Huston opened the hearing by explaining the matter to Okanogan County hearing examiner Dan Beardslee. The two issues are that Miller cleared and graded a road and built a gazebo without a permit, Huston said.
Even though the gazebo replaced one destroyed in the fire, it needs a building permit, said Huston. Using the old road is allowed, but resurfacing it is not, said Huston. “The moral to the story — I need a permit,” he said.
Even restoration requires a shoreline substantial-development permit because the work is within 200 feet of the Methow River, said Huston.
Miller had some quibbles over Huston’s use of the term “gazebo.”
“I differ on the gazebo,” said Miller. “I consider that to be an attractive-looking shed,” he said. Miller said the small building replaces one that had been destroyed in the fire and that he intends to use it for agricultural purposes. He used wood already on site and retained the same footprint as the burned building, he said.
“Is there a particular section of the building code or SMP [Shoreline Master Program] that says you don’t need a building permit?” Beardslee asked Miller.
Miller said he thought the shed would be exempt because it was below a certain size and replaced an existing structure. A county planner at the hearing explained that the county provides an exemption from shorelines permits for buildings valued under $7,047, but that these structures still require a building permit.
The county’s SMP does provide for exemptions when maintaining or repairing structures damaged by fire. But exemptions are “construed narrowly” and must still comply with all provisions and be authorized by the plan administrator, according to the SMP.
Miller also called on a consultant he hired early this year to oversee the land restoration. The consultant said they intend to establish plants to attract pollinators. He asked Beardslee whom to contact and where to obtain a list of native plants. “That’s one of those things that you work out during the permit process,” said Beardslee.
In the letter appealing the county’s order, Miller listed steps he’d taken, including marking the ordinary high-water mark and contacting state and federal land-management agencies. Huston said he didn’t have any reason to doubt Miller, but said he did the work before applying for the necessary permits.
The property, which Miller owns along with other individuals, is accessed via Danzl Road, on the west side of state Route 153 about 1 mile north of Methow, and is visible from the highway. Photos in the county’s files show a road that follows the contours of the peninsula and traverses a clump of conifers, plus a square building with a metal roof. There is also grading on a slope near the river.
When Huston made his presentation to Beardslee, he said the property “rang a bell.” Huston said Miller had come in several weeks earlier to talk about a potential subdivision of the parcel. Any subdivision plans are a separate matter and not part of the stop-work order or appeal, said Huston.
Miller, who works as a farmer and owns Land Company, a real estate firm in Brewster, said in an interview this month that he’d been struggling to restore the property during a challenging economy. Miller also served from 2007 to 2017 on the Okanogan County planning commission.
There was no public comment regarding Miller’s appeal. Beardslee said he would visit the site and issue a decision within 10 working days.