Snohomish: Property rights 'eroded,' innkeepers complain

By J.J. Jensen
Times Snohomish County bureau

SNOHOMISH, WA - 7/2/03 Larry and Sandy Countryman were restoring an 1896 farmhouse, which they wanted to turn into a bed and breakfast, when they received a stop-work order from the city.

Their efforts expanding the downtown house and adding a dormer had not followed an approved set of plans from their original building permit. Plus, by not installing additional parking spaces, they did not meet conditions set forth in a lengthy list of city codes.

But, said the couple, who for 18 years have operated the Countryman Bed and Breakfast next door to the farmhouse, what they do on their property should be their business.

And, they said, they should not have to adhere to the city's Design Review Board, of which several members do not reside in the city or own historic homes.

"To me, it's no different than when King George tried to make laws for the colonists when he didn't live there," Sandy Countryman said. "They're telling me they're imposing their design standards on me, and this is what you shall do, and they don't even live here."

City Manager Larry Bauman, however, said the Design Review Board is a community asset and has just been doing its job. Final approval of permits still rests with the planning department.

In 1998, Snohomish adopted design standards for downtown businesses and residences to preserve a historic environment for the city. The city's 14-square-block historic district encompasses about 350 buildings.

Among the standards: providing parking behind or to the side of buildings, screening all garbage bins (for businesses), and requiring covered porches and trim on doors and windows (for residences).

"Obviously, there's a much higher level of interest in development standards in the downtown because of its historic nature," Bauman said. "I think it's important for this community to maintain the historic quality of its downtown."

Larry Countryman, a former Snohomish City Council member, and Sandy, a former city planning commissioner, said they both had a hand in establishing the Design Review Board.

"The idea was they were to be a resource," Sandy said. "Now, instead of 'Let's get together and cooperate,' it's 'Thou shalt do this, and thou shalt do that.' "

Larry and Sandy Countryman want to turn this 1896 farmhouse into an inn.

Though Bauman said he understands the Countrymans' concerns, he said the majority of downtown businesses and homeowners have supported the design standards and process.

"It's a major community-value issue on how you create a balance between the rights of the private-property owner and values of a community and what they want their community to look like," Bauman said.

Problems such as those the Countrymans have faced, he said, can be avoided if residents and business owners meet with the city's planning staff early and are upfront with their intentions.

"What we're here for is to help people through this process and understand our codes," Bauman said.

"We want to help facilitate the development. The more contact we can have with people before they start developing plans, the better we can help them save money and frustration."

As for the Countrymans, who had put more than $40,000 into repairs and a new garage when they received the stop-work order March 10, Larry said he probably will resubmit proposals to the Design Review Board.

Sandy, however, said she's adamant about giving residents more control over what they do on their property. She'd also like to see design standards more uniformly applied.

"Property rights of the people are being eroded," she said. "I'm not going to give up the fight."

J.J. Jensen: 425-745-7809 or


In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref.]

Back to Current Edition Citizen Review Archive LINKS Search This Site