Gary Snyder has been working to build a new house on his lot for nearly two years. Snyder desired to build a larger house on his lot, but the area in which he lives is zoned for only one residence for the size of his lot. This would have meant that in order to build a new home Snyder would have been required to demolish his existing home. Snyder could not afford to build a new home and demolish the old one.
Faced with this dilemma Snyder spoke with county staff who indicated that he could possibly use the county’s then existing accessory apartment code. The accessory apartment statute was intended to allow county residents to have a second smaller house on their property for others to live in. The accessory structure has sometimes been called a mother-in-law apartment. There was no restriction on who could use the accessory apartment and there was no restriction on charging rent.
The planning commission approved Snyder’s request under the accessory apartment ordinance and recommended approval of a conditional use permit. When the request for the conditional use permit came before the council they denied Snyder’s request. Snyder appealed the decision to the county board of appeals and the council decision was overturned on August 25, 2010. The board of appeals placed several conditions on Snyder including, “That if construction of the proposed residence does not commence within one year, the temporary use of the existing residence will default back to the main use of the property, as designated single family dwelling and the conditional use permit shall become null and void.” Snyder then began plans to build his home.
Snyder filed an application for a building permit and was issued this permit on July 27, 2011. This was inside the one year required for construction to commence. On January 23 of this year the county issued a letter to Snyder stating, “On July 27, 2011, when your building permit was issued, the County viewed that as a good faith effort to begin construction.” On January 26 Snyder requested an extension of the building permit and the county granted this extension, but on the same date Snyder was sent a letter from the county indicating that he had not begun construction and that because of this his conditional use permit was considered to be expired.
Between the time of Snyder’s original application to build an accessory apartment and the time that he received notification that he had not begun construction the county council had changed the accessory apartment code so that Snyder would no longer be able to gain approval with his current plans. The county council changed the code, at least in part, because they felt that the use by Snyder of this provision was a loophole to be able to have two residences on one lot. They felt that this undermined the county’s zoning ordinances limiting the number of residences on a particular lot size. The new code requires that the accessory apartment and the main residence be connected.
Snyder brought the issue before the council in February and in a five to two vote with member Nelson voting against member Kilmer abstaining, the caouncil determined that construction had not begun and that Snyder had not met the requirement to begin construction within one year. Member Nelson indicated that he supported the rights of property owners and that he believed the code supported that construction had begun. Member Kilmer expressed that he would like additional information on whether construction had begun before a decision was made.
Once again, Snyder appealed the council’s decision and, once again, the council was overturned. The county appeal authority ruled that, “The County Council, acting as the Zoning Administrator, was arbitrary and erred in their determination on February 7, 2012 in regards to the Synder CUP Condition #2 ( issued on August 25, 2010) that because construction of the proposed residence had not commenced within the one year allotted timeframe, that the permit can no longer be held valid. The decision was based on the issuance of a building permit to Snyder. The appeal authority stated that the council did not follow precedence in county code when making their decision. The appeal authority ruled that under current county code that the application for a building permit was sufficient action to consider building to have commenced.
Snyder will be able, once again, to move forward with his construction project. There are other conditional and time frames imposed on the project. Snyder will have to comply with the other provisions and continue to complete the project on schedule for the decision to remain in force.