Monday, August 3, 2009

A Win for the Sunnyland Neighborhood – For the Moment

On July 9th, I reported on the appeal hearing of a building permit for the equivalent of a no-tell motel at 423 E. Illinois in the Sunnyland neighborhood. (Click here to read that blog entry.) The property owner had secured a permit which allowed him to build a “single family” home which he claimed, and the Planning Director agreed, was a remodel of the existing structure. A hearing was held on July 15th and a judgment by the examiner was rendered on 29 July. You can read the examiner’s decision by clicking here.

Essentially, the hearing examiner saw that which the neighbors saw and that which the Planning Director did not see – that the plans were not of a mere remodel and that they violated several portions of the Bellingham Municipal Code.

(Click on image at left to see the current state of the structure) I will leave it to the reader to go through the examiner’s reasoning which is relatively straightforward. [Remember that the appeal cost the neighbors over $1000.] Here is a portion of the decision:

“The permit erroneously allows the additional encroachment of wall extensions for a second story. This encroachment cannot be permitted without first obtaining a variance as provided in BMC 20.18. The permit also was issued without first properly calculating the percentage of destruction of the building that is proposed in relation to the entire structure. If this calculation shows that the actual cost to repair the portion of the building that is destroyed is 50% or more than the estimated cost to replace the entire structure the building permit may not be granted unless a plan is first approved by the Hearing Examiner as provided in BMC 20.14.010C.” Nothing, of course, prohibits the property owner from redoing the plans and causing further problems for the residents of Sunnyland. At $1,000 a pop, these appeals become expensive - mosh skosh.

The examiner goes on to say: “The potential or proposed use of a building is not relevant to a determination whether a building permit should be issued provided the building is configured so as to be consistent with the permitted uses allowed within the use district in which the building is located. The permit in this case allows construction of a single family dwelling unit.” This is a reference to the neighbors’ contention that the structure was a “single family” dwelling in name only and was being constructed expressly to house groups of renters who the property owner would claim to be “protected classes" under the Bellingham Municipal Code which prohibits more than 3 unrelated persons from renting a home.

Given the existing code, the examiner was likely correct in not entertaining the complaint regarding the eventual use of the structure. That being said, this points out a glaring problem which allows structures to be built, structures at which future neighbors will look and say, “Who allowed that to be built?” If you do not believe me, take a look at another property owned by the same individual at 2605 Hampton Place (image at left) about which I also wrote on July 9th. (Click here for more info on Hampton Place.)

Who allowed that?


mrostron said...

Seems we have a planning department that can't tell the difference between a bunkhouse and a single family dwelling. Maybe we should pass the collection plate and send them back to school. This is only one battle in the bigger war to save the historically valuable parts of our town which the city at times seems to be hell-bent in destroying. This isn't Venice or Rome of course, but the whole town does not have to look like a fever dream from the architectually challenged. Those are nice lots (on E. Illinois), and a nice home or homes could be built there which would net the owner a handsome profit, and still be in keeping with neighborhood character and zoning ordinances.

Zonemaven said...

Thanks, Mike, but there you go again being reasonable. When "enforcement" is a four letter word, these are the neighborhoods you get.

Anonymous said...

The Hearing Examiner pulled out the very issue I was wondering about....I'm not aware of any neighborhood other than the Lettered Streets that allows rebuilds, and only after some kind of disaster, at the 51% and greater level without significantly more process. And in the Lettered Streets that only applies to Non-conforming uses grandfathered in during rezones. Good on ya Dawn! M McAuley

Jack Builder said...

Planning permission is always a difficult area. Its essential builder and planning permission officers try to work together.

Zonemaven said...


That seem to be exactly the problem here - the planners and the builders are too cozy. It is the local homeowners who will have to live with the result of the permitting process, not the planner and not the builder.