County ordinance squelches humanitarian act; 
harms right of private ownership

by Sue Forde

Sequim, WA - Jerry Levesque moved to Sequim, WA to enjoy the small town atmosphere of the area, and to contribute to his community, as he has always done throughout his adult life.  Originally from a small town in Maine, Jerry served in the Navy during the Vietnam War.  After his discharge, he worked at a number of businesses, including drapery installation, auctioneering, and presently owns and operates Sequim Auto Sales with his wife Alanna.  Jerry works hard: you can often see him running his tractor in the fields, and doing a variety of other jobs.

A couple of years ago, Jerry bought a little piece of property along the Dungeness River where he parked his trailer so his family and friends could have a get-a-way place to go for picnics or a weekend vacation.  To get there takes a short drive down a private dirt road along which are other homes and recreational lots.  To reach the river from the trailer takes a hike up and over a berm, then down to the river – quite a distance from the road.  The short hike to the river is a beautiful area, filled with trees and flowers, and an ancient bench overlooking the river, now overgrown with moss where previous owners probably sat and enjoyed the view in bygone days.

When Jerry placed his little trailer at the roadway, he built up the driveway so the rain would have a place to go.  He also brought in an above ground holding tank, as the property would not allow underground septics.

About a year ago, a fellow Jerry had done business with, also a Vietnam vet, suffered a heart attack and could no longer work.  Jerry learned that he and his wife had lost everything, and had no place to live.  Jerry offered to let them stay in the RV rather than live on the streets.

In times past, nothing would have been made of this situation.  The good deed that Jerry had done would probably have gone unnoticed, and the vet would have had a place to live until he recovered sufficiently to get back on his feet. 

Today, that’s not the case.  Today, a county ordinance is in place called the Critical Areas Code.  That ordinance was passed last year despite loud opposition by many local people – people who took time to show up at the public hearings to voice their reasons why this would not be a good piece of legislation.  It was passed anyway.  And because it was passed, Jerry Levesque is in a lot of trouble.

Somehow, someone “saw” the trailer on Jerry’s property (despite the fact that the only way in to see the property would be to cross private property), and turned Jerry in to the county.  An appointed “code enforcement officer” for the Critical Areas Code brought a “cease and desist” order against Jerry, and ordered him to remove everything on the property back to its “natural” state – at a cost of approximately $2,500. 

Wait a minute, Jerry said.  I’m not hurting anybody; in fact, I’m helping someone.  I’m not hurting the environment, the river or the fish.  He sought legal advice, and was told that he could take his case to the Hearings Examiner.  He did so, believing he could present his case, and that the Examiner would see the folly of making him remove the little trailer and dirt and holding tank – along with removing the ill vet who would now have no place to go.   He also found that the law provided for a “two hour rule” – that is, if he could remove everything off the property in two hours, in the event of a 100-year flood, he could do so quite easily.

The hearings examiner reported, after all the testimony had been made, that even though the RV, holding tank and improved driveway did not cause any harm, he still had to deny the appeal because under the code, the trailer, driveway improvement and holding tank were considered “development” to the property, and Jerry could not “develop” the property without first receiving “permission” from the county, at great expense.

So far, Jerry has spent in excess of $3,000 trying to defend his right to use his own property.  The case that was brought before the hearing examiner showed that there was no harm to the river, to the environment, or to anyone in what he had done to his own property.  The power of that decision did not lie with the hearing examiner, however.  It lies with the “Administrator” – one person, unelected and not responsible to the people – who apparently has total control over what a person does with their property.

Jerry is not the only individual who has suffered at the hands of the onerous code.  Perry Bolster, a local realtor, decided to remove a dead stumps from his land.  He did so – and was cited in violation of the code, due to the reason that the stump was located in a “buffer zone”. 

The Critical Areas Code and other land-use regulations encompass more than 55% of Clallam County. If an individual wants to do anything on their property, from building a fence, to adding to an outbuilding, to cutting tree branches – the hardship lies on the property owner.  They are guilty until proved innocent – or until they pay to have the county representative physically inspect their property to tell them whether they will be allowed to do what they want to do with it – and pay the county a fee to do so. Other fees and charges may have to be paid by the landowner before anything can be started, from hiring an expert to provide the required reports, to fees necessary to obtain a variance, if one would be allowed by the administrator.  Whatever the decision, it lies strictly in the hands of the “Administrator” to interpret.

Many local citizens believe the Critical Areas Code is far too broad in its language, and, as a result, is open to subjective interpretation, and hence, many potential lawsuits.

In the Dec. 17, 2000 issue of the Sunday daily paper, there were two announcements relating to the Critical Areas Code.  The first was a news story about the budget, wherein a new position of “code enforcement attorney” will be created, whose duty it will be to “write and enforce county code.”  The salary for the position was announced at $63,738.00 per year.  The second was located in the “help wanted” section, where a position of “Code Compliance Officer II” is offered at a monthly salary from $3,206.94 to $3,898.05 starting, plus benefits.  Between these two positions (with more to come), the cost to the taxpayers will be well over $100,000 per year.  Where will this money come from?  Could it be that the enforcement officer and attorney will be aiming their sights at the landowners who may be in “violation” of the code, and forced to pay fines from $1,000 to $25,000?

What is wrong with this picture???

Many people in Clallam County believe the Critical Areas Code is bad law.  It harms the citizens / taxpayers that pay to fund it and the employees that enforce it.  It needs to be repealed. 

Back to Current Edition Citizen Review Archive LINKS Search This Site