Sunday, February 19, 2012

More Public Records - Jamie and a Constituent Talk CAO

In the red highlighted part below, Jamie suggests the Council has to make hard choices. I agree that they have to make hard choices, but will they make the right choices?  From my perspective, so far the answer has been "No."  By the way, the black bolded parts of the following emails are part of the original email, not modifications by me.

Also, Jamie says that we've lost money. What money exactly? I am not aware of "millions" in lost grants and loans.  And do we really want millions in grants and loans anyway? Grants often establish policy and financial obligations that seem to cost us more money in the long run. Do we really want more loans? And is that really the reason that we're doing the CAOs: to get grants and loans for a grant-and-loan-fueled economy? I thought we were protecting the environment. I am confused.

Subject: RE: Concern over CAO Activities
Date: Wed, 15 Feb 2012 02:12:27 +0000
Thanks for the fast response.  I am not in the "chicken Little" crowd on this issue, but the somewhat cavalier way the maps are being classified has me concerned.  Lets take a specific REAL world example....SUNSET... We sit on a 4+ acre special zoned "commercial" center on the island.  The current map shows a "wetland" across a good portion of our parcel (which is not true) and an associated 1% potential to flood designation across most of the lot.  As you know from being on our lot many times, the yard is elevated approximately 15' above the level of the adjacent wetland (to ensure it doesn't flood by the way).  If the maps persist as drawn, what specifically can I expect when we go to expand our main building (we have had drawings in the works for 18 months now)? or we want to add an additional dry storage building in the NW corner of the property (which we have also drawn and intend to operate an equipment rental business for the island).  The expansion of the store in the designated "Commercial area" is exactly what is supposed to happen....we concentrate commercial enterprises into logical pockets so that mixed land use doesn't occur willy-nilly all over the island.  We have been planning the expansion for some time to better serve the community with a wider variety of products.  One example would be more storage for a low end paint  as today we only have room for one, so we carry what the builders want Benn Moore at the expense of the home owner who might want a $20/gal general can of paint.  Additionally, expanded clothing, sporting goods, expanded pet department, and an expanded house wares/cooking section to fill obvious voids in our small community.  The only way to expand the building is to push it to the west by about 50', in doing so we can pick up an additional 2000 SQFT of retail space.  Today, the 50' of expansion to the west would flow without a hitch (no impervious surface or lot coverage issues) permitting the process would move along the normal path.  Now comes the new maps and the new regs......What will happen? (if right now your answer is I don't know, then you can't in your right mind consider passing and approving them).  How are the fish and frogs going to be effected by my building expansion in the new era? Is it better to have treated lumber sitting in that area, or an expanded building?  Who ultimately decides what's best? Who has the final say?  How much more will it cost me to conduct studies to prove that the fish and the frogs are going to be OK?  The building addition as planned will cost more than $100K to complete, the reason it isn't done yet is that it only can marginally return the investment in a reasonable timeframe.  Now because someone may have been a little cavalier with the pen designating wetland areas, the burden of proof (and cost associated with it) shifts to me, the land owner, to shoulder.  If I choose not to build what does it mean.....Maybe nobody in the community covers these needs, which means more people must drive off island, consume fossil fuels, burden the failing ferry system, and what happens....the environment suffers (including fish and frogs).

I always hear the same kind of return response (refreshingly so far not from you)...."well you have a vested interest in development" your damn right I do and so does every other person living on Lopez.  Every project undertaken employs architects planners, inspectors, carpenters, plumbers, electricians.  Those people have families, those families keep teachers doctors, dentists, and other professionals employed.  Anything that potentially upsets this balance and introduces new burdens of cost has the potential to destroy the system.

I get that there needs to be updated regs, but how will we ever account for the unintended consequences of the decisions we are going to make, its not good enough to just hope its all going to workout.  Real damage is going to be done here.


Subject: RE: Concern over CAO Activities
Date: Tue, 14 Feb 2012 14:46:35 -0800
Thank you for your email.  
I do appreciate your concerns about the Council's update of the CAO and the impacts it will have on property owners and developers. I agree that most property owners are and want to be good stewards of their property and that education can be far more effective than regulations.  However, the council is required to comply with state law, and this update to the CAO is a long overdue state requirement.  In the time since this update was due (2005) the state requirements have become even more onerous from the perspective of property owners and developers, so the delays we have had are not providing a better outcome.  

The council is also working to address what I see as improvements needed in the current code.  One example is that the update will allow non-conforming homes that are destroyed by fire to be re-built in the existing footprint - something that is not an option in the current code. Much has been disseminated from property rights groups and environmental groups looking at tiny portions of the code and then taking it to the extreme. Much of the code that is being criticized is current and hasn’t been altered. These groups haven’t mentioned that in another section a buffer was reduced from200’ to 100’ because it couldn’t be backed up by best available science.

To better understand the state requirements that dictate the CAO General Section update process I urge you to read the analysis of SJC's existing code (available on the county website on the CAO Notices & Documents page):

The ordinance won’t please everyone  in the end but rarely  do large complex code revisions. The general section that we just finished needs some tweaking for a part that was purposely general for flexibility but seems to have back fired. It can be done before final passage.

This process has stalled many times because no one was willing to make hard choices. By not doing it, it has cost the county millions in lost grants and loan opportunities that could have helped our economy. It has also been a giant suck on staff time. Prescriptive measures were thought to be too harsh and one size fit all. The variable approach gives more flexibility but it harder to implement. The current council is committed to getting through this process and is devoting a tremendous amount of time to be informed.

I would be happy to talk further with you about this - or any other issue.

Jamie Stephens
District 6

From: Joel Arnold []
Sent: Monday, February 13, 2012 4:51 PM
To: Jamie Stephens
Subject: Concern over CAO Activities

I hope this note finds you well.  I wanted to take an opportunity to contact you to express my concerns over the current path towards implementation of the CAO regulations.  While June and care deeply about the environment, we are even more concerned about the fragile state of our little local economy on Lopez and the greater San Juan County.  I haven't spoken with you directly, so I am not clear on where you stand on this critical issue, but I implore you not to let this half-baked set of rules and red tape make it to implementation without a real scrubbing of what we are really getting for the significant risks we are going to assume to the livelihood of our community.

For years, the county has had rules and regulations in place that more than adequately provide for the balancing of the needs of the environment and the need for our community to responsibly grow at a reasonable and sustainable pace.  You need only walk the beaches and forest lands of the county to confirm this fact.

While it might be easy to dismiss this plea as we have an obvious "vested interest" as business owners in your community. The health of our business is directly tied to the overall health of the local economy and nearly every job in it.  A new set of onerous and expensive needless regulations will certainly have a negative impact on nearly every working member of our community as we all rely on a steady and predictable path of responsible growth.

Please make a stand for a more rational less restrictive approach to balancing the various needs in our community before its too late

Joel And June Arnold
Sunset Builders Supply
Lopez Island

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