Thursday, September 10, 2015

In some rural and agricultural areas, officials lack staff, time to regulate illegal businesses

Illegal businesses are allowed to stay in operation in some rural and agricultural areas because of laws that are difficult to enforce and a lack of  regulators, Lynn Thompson reports for The Seattle Times. In King County, Washington, "county code-enforcement officers mostly respond to complaints—and because of a lengthy appeals process—illegal enterprises operate in rural and agricultural areas, sometimes for years." (Times photo by Dean Rutz: this illegal tree removal business in Fall City, Wash., violates zone rules but has remained in operation)

Residents outside Fall City have complained about an illegal tree removal and landscaping business that employs 10 and is a constant source of noise, traffic and strangers, Thompson writes. "The county issued its first 'stop work order' for clearing and grading without a permit in March 2013. Since then, it has issued five other violation notices, including for converting a house into an office and running a landscaping business as a home occupation."

"King County allows home businesses in rural areas if they are limited in scale and 'subordinate to the primary use of the site as a residence,' according to the department’s rules," Thompson writes. "They must have fewer than three employees working on site and no more than three who report to the site but work primarily elsewhere. A permit is required when a structure is built or the use of the property changes. The county also allows home industries for businesses with more employees and more equipment, but those require a conditional-use permit, which is subject to public notice, public appeals and conditions set by the county."

Matt Rengo, the owner of the Fall City business, claims he is the victim of harassment and exaggerated allegations from his neighbors, but he "hasn’t reduced the size of his business or paid any county fines," Thompson writes. "On Aug. 14, two days after the county fined him a third time, he submitted an application for a permit that could allow him to continue to operate as a home industry."

"County officials say the process for handling code violations errs on the side of leniency to give the violator every opportunity to correct the problems," Thompson writes. John Starbard, director of the Department of Permitting and Environmental Review, said "the timelines for compliance are long, appeals can be appealed, violators can ask for more time and they can defer the payment of penalties." One problem is manpower, with five code-enforcement officers to cover about 1,000 square miles. Each has about 260 open cases. (Read more)

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