Okanogan County Hearing Examiner Dan Beardslee recently heard two hours of testimony regarding a house in the Lost River Airport development that violates county code because it was built too close to the property lines in 2011.
The homeowner is appealing the county planning director’s denial of his request for a variance for the house.
“I have a ton of questions,” Beardslee said. “How in the world did this come up 10 years after the house was built? Isn’t one of the purposes of the footing inspection to determine if a house was built in the right place?” Beardslee asked.
Beardslee heard testimony from Okanogan County Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney David Gecas, appellant Charles Hall, and Hall’s neighbor Dan Jensen, at the July 22 hearing.
Although the house was built in 2011, Hall didn’t submit the variance request until this year. Okanogan County Planning Director Pete Palmer denied the variance because there are other suitable building sites on the property, no other landowners in the development received similar variances, and granting it would constitute special privileges for Hall.
Gecas presented 2008 correspondence from the county to Hall and co-owner Matthew McKole explaining the setbacks required by the county code, along with the approved site plan, site analysis and building permit for the house. All showed setbacks of 35 feet on one side of the house and 37 feet on the other, which more than satisfied the code requirements.
Responding to questions from his attorney, Thomas O’Connell, Hall explained that they’d been required to obtain a variance for the septic system in 2009, which is standard for a small lot. Hall showed a plan for the septic system drawn up by an engineer, which he said also depicted the house closer to the property lines. He believed the engineering plans were the appropriate site plan for the entire project once they were ready to build in 2011, Hall said.
The septic permit is handled by Okanogan County Public Health and is separate from the site plan for the house, which goes through the Planning Department, Gecas said. Moreover, the engineering drawing includes dimensions for the components of the septic system, but only a rectangle marked “future cabin,” with no dimensions or distance from lot lines, he said.
Early plans for the property also show a carport just 10 feet from the property line, Hall said. But on the application submitted in 2011, Hall checked only the box for a house, not a garage or carport, Gecas said. Hall said a large area of bedrock made it “cost-prohibitive” to build in the original location.
When Hall and McKole were ready to build, they had to reapply for the site analysis because the previous one had expired. In April 2011, Hall sent a note to accompany the new application that says, “Enclosed is resubmital for site plan as existing no changes,” according to the documents submitted for the hearing.
O’Connell presented a map showing three other lots in the Lost River development that had been granted variances. But Gecas said all three were special situations, and all the variances had been granted before construction. One allowed the owner to build on an existing foundation, one was to provide wheelchair access to a carport, and one was to accommodate a fire engine for a fire station in the development, he said.
Dan Higbee, who is now the county’s building official, inspected Hall’s house during construction in 2011 and signed the certificate of occupancy, Hall said.
Inspectors try to verify setbacks, particularly in relation to shorelines and wetlands, but property lines are not always marked, Higbee told the Methow Valley News. County building inspectors look for construction soundness, electrical wiring and plumbing, Gecas said.
The certificate of occupancy seems “quite important,” Beardslee said. A landowner should be able to rely on it — particularly after the county had approved all the phases of construction, he said.
Jensen, Hall’s neighbor, who bought his home in 1988, testified that he learned about the situation when he consulted the Planning Department last summer about building a fence.
Jensen felt the large house next door intruded on his privacy — particularly since it appeared it was being rented to tourists. Last summer, he checked with the Planning Department to see if there were restrictions on fence height.
When the planner brought out the site plan for Hall’s property, Jensen said he was astounded to learn that the house was supposed to be 35 feet from the lot line. “That’s when I learned it was built in the wrong place,” he said.
Beardslee left the record open so Hall could submit blueprints and building plans for the house. When it’s safe, Beardslee said he’d like to make a site visit before he makes a decision. The area is currently under evacuation orders because of the Cedar Creek Fire.