A visit to the past: One reason Clallam County made the DCD an elected position
(Editor’s note: This letter from 2001 is self-explanatory. Shortly after, Clallam County, as a Home Rule Charter County, placed a change to the Charter to see if the DCD [Director of Community Development] should be made an elected position instead of an appointed one. The issue went on the ballot, and the voters said “yes” to an elected, rather than appointed position for the DCD Director – the first and only in the nation so far. When the next Charter Review Commission convened, the issue was placed on the ballot again – pressed by those who thought the DCD Director should be an appointed “expert”, despite the fact that the elected position had been working quite well. The second time – the voters AGAIN voted to keep the position elected. There is a movement afoot to bring it to the ballot a THIRD time by the current Charter Review Commission. We shall see if that comes to pass. LKP)
Frustrated Clallam County citizen speaks out about extraordinary requirements to place part of his property into a “pre-man” condition as a result of the Critical Areas Code
from Andrew Nisbet
(former 24th District State Representative)
June 25, 2001
Here is an extremely detailed presentation of a situation that I feel should be brought to the attention of the public here in Clallam County. To paraphrase Mark Twain, please forgive the length of this letter but I did not have the time or the temperament to write a short one. I also feel that the issue is too critical and complex to be handled in a short “Letter to the Editor”.
On the morning of 13 June 2001, at my request, I was granted a meeting with Mr. Bob Martin, Director of the Clallam County Department of Community Development (DCD) and members of his staff to discuss a problem dealing with the Clallam County Critical Areas Code (c.c.c.27.12.). At this meeting I was shocked to be blatantly informed by the department’s staff that any property owner in Clallam County who owns land that has on it a critical area or critical area buffer is responsible to restore that land to a pre-mankind condition. No matter what has happened to that land over the years, they claim the current owner is responsible for any and all alterations that have taken place since the arrival of man here on the peninsula at the end of the Ice Age.
It was stated that the current owner is responsible for all the alterations that have taken place over the centuries and he can, at the whim of the department, be required to restore the land who what the staff of the department determine a post glacier condition to be. This restoration will be accomplished even if it requires tons of topsoil to be imported into the area. It was further stated that the staff has the power and they would be the ones who determine just what the pre-mankind condition is and they have the final word on how its restoration is to be accomplished. This was not the final word on how its restoration is to be accomplished. This was not just the staff’s position; it was all agreed to by the Department Director, Bob Martin, who joined in the statement that it is the objective of the department to return all critical areas and their buffers here in Clallam County to a pre-mankind condition. I was flabbergasted and asked them to think of what they were saying! Did they really think that they had been given the authority to declare that all property owners in the country that have what they have or in the future might to be critical areas or buffers are now guilty of breaking the county’s laws and there fore are required to restore their private property to a pre-mankind condition? At the end of the meeting I returned home and immediately mailed a “memorandum for the record” of the meeting to Director Martin.
Now 12 days later, I have yet to receive a response or any other indication that my interpretation is incorrect, therefore, I can only conclude that Mr. Martin and his staff concur with my understanding of the meeting, the claims they made, and that they intend to act accordingly.
I find it shocking that in a nation where a fundamental principle of both the state and federal constitutions provides us, as citizens, equal protection under the law and gives us the ability to expect equal enforcement of the law, that our county non elected officials feel that they have the power to define the code and the right to, at will, pick and chose where and how they will enforce their view of this current C.C.C. 27.12. [Critical Areas Code]
Within a short distance of my current home, I can view 20 pieces of property where the owners are now unknowingly in violation of the code as interpreted by the department. Throughout the county there are thousands of property owners who are unaware that they own property considered by the county planners to be critical areas or buffer areas. These taxpayers do not realize that they are now responsible for any change that has taken place since the arrival of man in the area and that the county now claims the power to make them spend thousands of dollars to restore their property to a pre-mankind condition as determined by the staff of the Department of Community Development.
In view of the above our elected officials have two choices:
First. If they concur with the staff’s position, they are duty bound by their oath of office to insure that the enforcement of Clallam County Code 27.12. is applied equally to all owners of land that have critical areas or buffers. By the staff’s definition, all of these property owners are now in violation of county law. The commissioners must enforce that law and at once insure that all of these owners are made to understand that even though they have done nothing to their property they are now required to restore their land to its pre-mankind condition regardless of cost, existing condition or the need to import tons of soil to accomplish restoration.
Second. If the commissioners do not agree with the staff’s position, they should declare a moratorium on all staff actions being directed under the current interpretation of the code until they can correct the staff and come up with a logical ad workable solution. This might require a recension or rescission of the current code and the development of a new and logical approach to the question of restoration and maintenance of critical areas and their buffers. The staff should be restrained until the commissioners act to correct the problems the staff is and has been creating.
So that you are fully aware of the background of my 13th of June meeting with Director Martin and members of the staff of the Department of Community Development, the following is a detailed explanation of the events that led up to this meeting.
On the 27th of April 2001 I was issued a Cease and Desist Order on the work being done for the placement of my manufactured home on our property at 441 Nisbet Rd. in Sequim. The order said that before I could continue completion of my new home I would have to hire, from a county approved list, an expert and have him prepare a mitigation plan for the restoration of a buffer area (and wetland) that had been cleared and graded in preparation of the site for the placement of my home.
On the 1st of May, after a careful examination of the property and a detailed study of Clallam County Code 27.12, I sent a “To whom it may concern” letter to the Dept. of Community Development and told them that I agreed that on a small portion of the buffer (but not the wetland) the rose bushes I had planted there 10 years ago had been removed. I told them that I had ceased work, had hired their expert and would do what was necessary to restore the area to the condition it was in prior to the removal of the rose bushes. In this same letter I pointed out that the area had, according to past County Commissioner Dick Lotzgesell, a member of the former owner’s family, for 100 years been a pasture. I further stated that I could not find any portion of the code that required me to replant the entire area. Nor could I find any authority that could require that I plant trees in an area that had been a hay field for years. I asked that someone other than a Code Enforcement Officer II look over the case and tell me to put the area back as it was before my contractor cleared off the rose bushes. I stated that if this were the case I would sign a document to that effect and replant the disturbed area, then we could all get back to work.
A week went by with no reply so I called and asked for a meeting with Mr. Martin, the department director. On the 16th of May, at the recommendation of Win Slota, the enforcement officer for the case, I wrote to Mr. Martin. My letter reviewed the events and asked that while the problems of the wetlands buffer were being resolved for the sake of all involved, I be allowed to continue work and the county would have the final say on allowing our move into the unit. I said that in the meantime the issue of the buffer could be resolved as a separate issue. Mr. Martin approved the concept.
On the 23rd of May I received a draft of my mitigation plan prepared by Dr. Shea ( a department recommended expert) and found that because Dr. Shea felt that it was what the county wanted he was recommending that I replant the entire buffer to include the importation of tons of soil and the planting of trees in the area.
On the 23rd of May I wrote to Dr. Shea and Director Martin pointing out my disagreement with parts of the Shea plan. I again questioned the planting of trees in an area that had been for over 100 years a pasture. I also questioned the planting of rose bushes in an area already covered with hundreds of rose bushes that are rapidly growing to cover the disturbed area, and are now four feet tall. I asked for a meeting in an attempt to resolve these and other issues.
The result of my letter was the 13th of June meeting where I was informed of the department’s position of returning everything involved back to the conditions that existed prior to the arrival of man at the end of the Ice Age.
On the 16th of June I received a letter from Associate Planner Dave Lasora telling me that he had approved Dr. Shea’s plan and that the only way work could proceed on my home was for me to complete the work required in Dr. Shea’s plan before any more work could be done on the home.
At this point I again contacted my attorney and asked him if he could find a legal basis for the department’s position. He informed me that he had checked and could not find a legal basis for their contentions. He also informed me that he had checked with the county’s attorney and that she too was unable to find a legal basis but it was her opinion that the county had the power to interpret the code as they saw fit until a court decided otherwise.
On 21 June after checking my savings account and my current ability to borrow the $20,000 to $25,000 it would require to take the matter to court, I had no alternative but to write my 23 June letter. In it I am forced, for the time being, to surrender to the outlandish dictates of the department, and once they provide me with the answers to som,e basic but very important questions, I will post a bond and get on with the work of warning the hundreds of property owners involved of the danger they face until we can get the courts or the county commissioners to change this outlandish position taken by unelected staff people in Clallam County. (Enclosure #7).
The situation has become even more bizarre as I have attempted to obtain the services of a qualified nursery person to aid me to obtain and plant the plants required by the county mandate. One firm said they would not touch this kind of work the county with a 10 foot pole. One other expert on local plantings laughed when I told him I wanted 20 one gallon plantings of horsetails as required by the plan. He said that he did not stock them because they can be found beside any road or trail in the area. I know he is right because there are hundreds of them currently in the area where I am required to do the plantings. He also said that it would cost me more because it looked to him like he would have to chop down rose bushes in order to find a place to plant the new rose bushes decreed by the county. In the meantime, two lawyers tell me that they are sparing no expense in searching out an English speaking mastodon so that they can truly ascertain what the conditions were here on the Peninsula prior to the arrival from the north of the first man.
To end on a more serious note, I really think that the situation has gotten completely out of hand. For example, at the 13 June meeting, I was informed by Dave Lasorsa, an associate planner, that I was lucky because he had just ordered one old couple to plant their entire buffer area in trees in order to return it to the forest area he felt existing there in the pre-mankind era. I feel that the public should learn just exactly how outlandish the department’s announced interpretation of county code 27.12 is, and what a usurpation of power is taking place by the non-elected officials in that department. I would appreciate your help in getting out the word!
(Note: Andy Nisbet passed away in Feb. 2013. You can read about him here:
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