Councilupholds ruling in Seascape appeals case

Published on Thu, Jul 27, 2006 by ara Nelson

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Council upholds ruling in Seascape appeals case

By Tara Nelson

Blaine City Council members voted 5-1 Monday night to uphold a decision by Blaine hearing examiner Michael Bobbink that declared two stop work orders issued by the city last year to be valid.

The orders were issued to Bellingham developer Joel Douglas on October 26 and 27 of 2005. 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.

An earlier stop work order against Douglas was resolved in just a few days and is not part of this appeal process.

William Pardee, in-house counsel for Douglas’ Harbor Lands company, claimed that Douglas had already obtained a building permit that authorized work on impervious surfaces on site. Further, Pardee argued the city had issued the appropriate work permits and claimed that stopping work caused damage to the structure of the building.

Bobbink ruled initially that the city had improperly issued Douglas’ building permits but that the stop work orders were valid. Both parties appealed the ruling, the city to have the entire building permit ruled invalid and Harbor Lands to reverse the hearing examiner’s decision on the validity of the stop work orders.

In a second ruling based on the appeals, Bobbink found the matter of the overall building permit not to be germane to the question of the validity of the stop work orders. Meanwhile, he reaffirmed the validity of the stop work orders based on the city’s version of the facts, and Douglas went to the next avenue of appeal, the city council.

Pardee claimed that all necessary documentation had been submitted and Douglas sought to introduce a photocopied page from his building plans that clearly shows the city’s stamp of approval as evidence.
Blaine city attorney Jon Sitkin objected to the introduction of new material and this was eventually sustained by Blaine mayor Mike Myers.

Sitkin said there are two types of site plans, one is called for under the city building code and another under the zoning code.

“A city stamp on the site plan submitted for a building permit is not the same as an approval of a zoning site plan,” Sitkin said, “So there’s no basis in material fact to overturn the hearing examiner’s decision, which is supported by five days of testimony,” said Sitkin.

Douglas responded that when he asked the city to find their copy of what he’d submitted they couldn’t. “You need to see this document that shows this, but your attorney doesn’t want you to, he doesn’t want you to see the truth,” he said.

At Monday’s council meeting Pardee again brought up the question of the over-all validity of the building permit, claiming that Bobbink was wrong to have found it invalid due to a procedural error by the city in his first ruling.

Council member Jason Overstreet disagreed. “I'm not an attorney but I have watched a lot of Law and Order,” he said. “If I was arrested for a DUI and the officer cited the RCW for littering, would that make a difference?”

Council member Bonnie Onyon asked if there was unauthorized work being completed, how else could it have been stopped if not by a stop work order. She added that an improper issuance of a building permit does not excuse Douglas’ suspected violations.

“This is also of public interest with regards to storm water, and that’s in the public’s interest,” she said. “Other than the permit being issued out of order, I don’t think it absolves the developer from doing things correctly.”

Pardee asked the council to take some time to look at the issue.
Council member John Liebert agreed, saying the council might be better served not to rush to a decision.“It’s possible the whole issue could be resolved before we get down the litigation road,” he said. “Once that bell is rung, this goes on a whole new track and to unring that bell is impossible.”

Council member Ken Ely agreed, although he said that if pushed, he would be inclined to uphold the hearing examiner’s decision. Ely added that Douglas and his attorney might be better served by taking the issue up with a superior court judge who can, “take it to minute points of law.”

Douglas later declined a phone interview but responded via fax that he applauds the members of the city council that took the time to carefully consider the issues. He added that while he has no immediate plans for legal action, he claims the stop work order issued in October of 2005 has cost his company Harbor Lands LLP approximately $2.5 million to date.