Hearingexaminer rules against developer

Published on Thu, Apr 6, 2006 by ack Kintner

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Hearing examiner rules against developer

By Jack Kintner

The 22-unit Seascape Condominium project that Bellingham developer Joel Douglas has nearly completed on Peace Portal Drive hit another snag last week when Douglas’ appeal of two stop work orders issued by the city on the project last fall was turned down.

At stake is Douglas’ right to occupy the property. The project at the 1.5 acre site of the former Westview Motel in the 800 Block of Peace Portal Drive is nearly finished and deposits are now being accepted, according to the developer’s website.

Douglas appealed the stop work orders last November to the Blaine hearing examiner, attorney Roger Ellingson, but Ellingson recused himself because he had been named in a pending conflict of interest lawsuit against the city by Dave White, a suit that was dismissed. He was replaced by Blaine municipal judge and Whatcom County hearing examiner Michael Bobbink.

Bobbink’s decision, issued March 23, upheld the city’s authority in issuing two stop work orders on the project last October 26 and 27. The city contended in its first stop work order that Douglas had begun site work before having an approved site plan and stormwater management plan, and in its second that Douglas was encroaching on city property.

The decision left both parties dissatisfied, and both have asked the hearing examiner to reconsider. Douglas’ attorney William Pardee said that he intends to file a motion for reconsideration based on some technical points of law as well as take the decision to the next level of appeal, the Blaine City Council. Should the council hear the appeal, they would then have 90 days in which to respond.

Bobbink also found a problem with Douglas’ building permit that he blamed on the city, saying as a conclusion of law that “...the city failed to follow its own ordinance by issuing a foundation permit and a building permit prior to site approval.”

Citing a 1973 case as precedent, the city has now responded with a motion that hearing examiner both deny Douglas’ motion for reconsideration and invalidate the project’s building permit altogether. “The court determined [in 1973] that the improperly issued permit conferred no rights and is void,” said Blaine city attorney Jon Sitkin in his legal brief to the hearing examiner.

Last fall, Douglas claimed that the stop work order was costing $2,800 per day. His attorney, William Pardee, wrote to Tomsic on October 17, over a week before the stop work orders were issued, saying that, “to date total estimated losses [from delays] exceed $250,000.” The letter went on to blame the delays on city staff assigned to Douglas’ project, saying they were “...disinterested or too busy. At the very least [they are] inexperienced and refuse to even look at the problems on our site.”

Bobbink’s findings of fact in the matter go all the way back to the city’s settlement of a local improvement district (LID) assessment in June of 2003 with the former owner of the property.

Despite Douglas’ allegations, Bobbink consistently affirmed the city’s version of events since then as factual, finding fault only with the improperly issued building permit.

The city is now asking that because of this, the entire permitting process should be declared void, which would require Douglas to begin all over again.

As of press time, hearings have not yet been scheduled.