State appeals county boat launch decision

Published on Thu, Jan 3, 2002 by Meg Olson

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State appeals county boat launch decision

By Meg Olson

The state parks department is appealing a county decision to deny non-conforming use status to a boat launch at the south end of Birch Bay State Park, without which the launch will be closed.

According to county land use division manager Roland Middleton, his department was unable to grandfather in the boat launch because of conflicting information about whether the site has been traditionally used to launch boats. "If everyone said it was always a boat launch, if we had any credible evidence, then we could OK it," he said. "Since we have disputes and not enough evidence we can’t authorize it."

Parks staff applied for non-conforming use status in a bid to keep the launch open, following mounting complaints from neighbor Pete Hansen that the boat launch was not permitted and led to increased traffic which adversely impacted adjacent tidelands.

Parks staff contended the launch had been in use before current county shoreline regulations were put in place in 1974, which would mean it should be allowed as a grandfathered use. In support of their position they submitted photographs, letters from users of the launch and a 1995 appraisal which stated "the ramp was originally utilized in conjunction with a commercial enterprise and has continued in public use for about 30 years."

Hansen sold the property to the parks department in 1996 for $43,000 and was apparently aware that the parks department purchased the land to use as a boat launch, though he did not return calls for comment. A 1995 letter to Hansen from William Jolly, parks chief of long range planning, described parks’ "strong interest in obtaining the property for public water access and boat launch use." Birch Bay State Parks manager Ted Morris said the park looked into acquiring the launch property from Hansen after users complained that Hansen had barred access to it and they had nowhere in Birch Bay to launch their boats. "He had liability concerns, and rightly so, but people asked the park what we could do to ensure water access," he said.

Hansen first began to complain of parks developing it as a boat launch in 1998. He wrote in a letter to Middleton that the site was not traditionally a commercial boat launch but a site where "a few locals were hand launching their small rowboats." Further letters from Hansen’s attorney Jon Sitkin swing from describing the launch as "historical" to protesting its "recent establishment," but all maintain that the launch violates the shoreline management act by allowing vehicles onto the tidelands and operating without required permits. Sitkin also argues the development of the launch violates Hansen’s property rights by facilitating trespass onto tidelands he owns a part interest in. The state and Hansen’s neighbor to the south are the other interested owners.

The picture gets cloudier through conflicting versions of how and when the launch was used. Tom McCalib is the previous owner of the Bossy Cow Marina, which covered Hansen’s property and the strip purchased by the parks department.

McCalib signed an affidavit denying the existence of a public boat launch , or one people could use to launch boats with their own vehicles during his years of ownership, from 1969 to 1974. He claims the only launch that existed was a dolly attached to the Bossy Cow building which has since been torn down. McCalib’s assertion is backed up by other letters from Bossy Cow users, but contradicted by others who claim to have used the gravel boat launch now owned by parks for over 25 years.

Morris said that, since purchasing the ramp the park has put in several thousand dollars in improvements and had planned further improvements, such as paving the gravel ramp and developing parking for trailers and restrooms. He said he hoped people who had traditionally used the ramp, especially those with photographs, would come forward to help the park’s case. "It’s taxpayers’ dollars well spent to get this grandfathered in if we can," he said. The hearing examiner’s office expects the hearing to be scheduled in early 2002.

If the parks department’s bid to gain non-conforming use fails, Morris said they will likely pursue the more costly and time-consuming process of applying for a Shoreline Substantial Development permit to keep the ramp open.

"It is permitted under zoning and it is allowed as a use, but there’s a lot of review between here and there," Middleton said.

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