Hearing examiner cites county’s role
A house in the Lost River Airport development that’s closer to property lines than allowed by county code has received a variance from the county’s hearing examiner, who found that the property owners had the right to rely on approval by county inspectors.
“[D]enial of the variance would impose a considerable hardship on the appellant, a hardship that Okanogan County was complicit in creating by issuing a certificate of occupancy which the appellant had every right to rely on,” Okanogan County Hearing Examiner Dan Beardslee said in his July 30 decision.
The house, owned by Charles Hall and Matthew McKole, was built in 2011. The 2,088-square-foot house is 12 feet from the property line, although the county code requires a minimum 25-foot setback.
After the situation came to light last year, property owner Hall applied for a variance, saying that other building sites would have required extensive removal of bedrock. Moreover, because lots in the development are small, their home is “consistent to the overall appearance of the neighborhood,” Hall said in the application.
Hall also said that the septic plan submitted for the property showed the house closer to the property line. After Okanogan County Planning Director Pete Palmer denied the variance, Hall appealed.
Beardslee heard from Hall, Hall’s neighbor Dan Jensen, and Okanogan County Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney David Gecas at the July 22 appeal hearing.
In his decision, Beardslee outlined the history of the site plan and building permit applications with the county, but said there’s a lack of clarity, in part because the county doesn’t retain building plans after a number of years, and Hall didn’t provide the plans, either.
Beardslee seemed most persuaded by the fact that the county inspected the construction – including the footings – several times and issued a certificate of occupancy in September 2013. In his experience, the footing inspection is when a building inspector determines if there are setback issues, Beardslee said.
In denying the variance, Palmer said there are other suitable building sites on the property and that granting it would constitute special privileges for Hall. But in his decision, Beardslee said, “the record is completely devoid of any evidence that would suggest that approval of this variance would be detrimental to public welfare.”
History of project
Hall and McKole submitted a site plan in 2008 that showed setbacks of 35 feet on one side of the house and 37 feet on the other. The application expired before they’d applied for a building permit so, using the same site plan in 2011, they applied for and were granted a building permit, according to Beardslee.
Although Okanogan County issued the permit, “exactly what transpired during the review of the building permit is subject to dispute,” Beardslee said.
Both site plans indicated setbacks consistent with the zoning code in place at the time, with the exception of a carport. The carport setback was 10 feet from the south property line, Beardslee said.
In 2011, Hall submitted a septic system plan that showed the cabin “more or less 10 feet from the property line,” Beardslee said.
Okanogan County argued that no setback dimension for the cabin was indicated on the septic plan. But a visual inspection of the plan shows that the cabin “is about the same distance from the property line as the drainfield, even if not specifically dimensioned,” Beardslee said.
Jensen, Hall’s neighbor, said at the hearing that he’d learned that the house was too close to the property line, when he consulted the Planning Department last year about constructing a fence for privacy between his residence and Hall’s.
Jensen told the county that Hall’s house blocks his view, according to the county’s staff report. Because the situation hasn’t changed in the eight years since Hall’s house was built, Jensen’s claim “seems disingenuous at best, and hardly rises to a detriment to the public welfare,” Beardslee said.
Beardslee also looked at implications for other properties throughout the county. “There are undoubtedly many properties and structures in Okanogan County that do not comply with setbacks, and the structure in question was properly inspected by Okanogan County and a certificate of occupancy issued. There is well established a strong public policy supporting administrative finality in land use decisions. The denial of this variance would send a chilling signal to all other properties similarly situated,” he wrote.
Parties with standing can appeal Beardslee’s decision within 21 days of the Aug. 19 legal notice.