Property line variance request denied by county
The brief legal notice in the newspaper, saying that the county’s planning director had denied a request for a setback variance, was easy to miss.
But for Dan Jensen, who’s had a vacation home in the Lost River Airport development since 1988, the situation is hard to overlook. When his neighbors built their 58-by-36-foot house 10 years ago, with a bank of windows facing Jensen’s dining area, Jensen and his wife felt they’d lost their privacy.
Still, Jensen figured there was nothing he could do about it. Lots in the airport development are quite small, often just 1/3 acre.
Jensen’s neighbors, Charles Hall and Matthew McKole, had a site plan approved by the county in 2008 situating their house 35 feet from the property line. But the house was built just 10 feet from the line. The zoning for the area requires at least a 25-foot setback, according to Okanogan County Planning Director Pete Palmer.
Because the house hadn’t been built before the site plan expired, in 2011 Hall and McKole re-submitted the site plan along with their application for a building permit, according to the Okanogan County Planning Department staff report. The site plan was marked “as existing no changes,” according to the report.
Palmer denied the variance application because granting it would constitute special privileges. No other landowners in the Lost River development have been granted similar variances and there were other suitable building sites, she said.
Okanogan County building inspectors visited the Hall lot during construction. They try to verify setbacks, particularly in relation to shorelines and wetlands, but property lines are not always marked, Okanogan County Building Official Dan Higbee said.
Palmer believes the situation came to light when the property was surveyed, most likely because Hall and McKole were planning to sell their house.
The survey found that the structure didn’t meet the setback regulations. “Therefore the property owners are now trying to loop back around and permit something that they did not construct to OCC [Okanogan County code] setback regulations,” Palmer said by email. That makes the house “an illegal non-conforming structure,” she said.
The County hasn’t taken a position on the situation primarily because the prosecutor is busy with other legal issues, Palmer said. It could become a priority in the future, she said.
Charles and Janie Hall have appealed the county’s denial of the variance. If the hearing examiner doesn’t grant the variance on appeal, the consequences aren’t clear, but it could affect the ability to expand or possibly even sell the property, Palmer said.
Hoping for resolution
Jensen wasn’t aware that the county requires a 25-foot setback from the property line, particularly because his garage, which was built before the county’s zoning changed from a minimum 5-foot setback, is so close to the line.
Moreover, Jensen hadn’t spent much time at his Lost River vacation home when his neighbors’ house was first built because family matters kept him away for several years. And since the county’s building inspectors had signed off on Hall and McKole’s house, he figured it met all the requirements. So, he never said anything.
Now, Jensen is hoping for a resolution that would restore his privacy — either having his neighbors’ house picked up and moved to where it’s supposed to be, or at least having them construct an attractive fence that blends in with the architecture and forested setting.
There is reportedly a sale pending on the Hall/McKole house.
Efforts to reach Hall for comment were unsuccessful.
The Okanogan County hearing examiner is holding a hearing on the appeal by Charles and Janie Hall on the variance denial on Thursday, July 22, at 10 a.m. The hearing examiner will take verbal testimony, and evidence will be presented by parties with standing. Testimony relevant to the appeal issue will be accepted from interested parties.
People can attend the hearing by Zoom or by phone. The log-in information will be on the Planning Department website at okanogancounty.org/government/planning.
For more information, contact planner Pam Wyllson at (509) 422-7122 or pwyllson@ co.okanogan.wa.us.