Three Rivers gets permit

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SNOQUALMIE - It has been a long 18 months for Kim Howard.

Howard, who runs the Three Rivers Rescue in Snoqualmie, has weathered nearly two years of King County Animal Control visits, calls from all over the Valley and City Council meetings in order to prove that her private animal rescue was legitimate and within the codes of the city and county.

"I think I'm going to sleep for four days, but then I'll be at it again," Howard said.

After securing two county permits, Howard's final obstacle with the city was cleared when the City Council unanimously approved granting her an unclassified use permit at its April 22 meeting. The permit allows activities on properties that would not otherwise be granted under zoning laws.

Although Howard has run the animal rescue out of her home on Fir Street for more than 10 years, the city and county ignored it until a complaint was filed in 2000, alleging that a dog from Howard's rescue approached a neighborhood child while the dog was being walked by a potential adopter.

Howard was asked by the county shortly after to obtain two permits, each of which would allow her to have more dogs under King County's zoning codes.

Her frustration grew when she was told by the city that in addition to the county permits, she would be required to get an unclassified use permit.

The cost of processing the city permit, originally estimated at $750, was reduced to $50 and eventually paid by an anonymous donor.

"I'm glad I won," Howard said. "But the whole thing should have been handled differently. I'm not a kennel. I'm just a single mom trying to raise good canine citizens."

City employees said they did everything by the book in processing the unclassified use permit. Associate Planner Gina Estep said the $750 estimate that was sent to Howard was meant for her benefit. Estep explained that any resident who applies for a permit is first issued a preapplication review (PAR) by the city explaining what the costs will be.

Estep added the fee was reduced because the city didn't know the specifics of the permit until it actually started to process it. For instance, the usual city attorney fee of $300 was waived because City Attorney Pat Anderson didn't work on the permit. Other fees were lowered when city staffers realized the permit was going to require less resources than predicted.

"It amounted to a two-page staff report," Estep said.

Mayor Fuzzy Fletcher said any talk about the city backtracking on the fee after seeing the support Howard had is untrue.

"It was an extremely emotional issue," Fletcher said. "What she didn't understand is that the city in the past got blamed for not being up-front with what the costs are. We wanted to fix that."

The estimate seemed high to Howard, but Fletcher said it is better to collect the money up front and spare applicants from hidden fees.

"It drives people crazy when they apply for something, pay $50, leave thinking they don't owe anything else and then get billed for it later," Fletcher said. "We'll keep it [PAR] how it is."

Peggy Fursman, Howard's neighbor who complained about the dog's behavior around her child, said she was pleased the city addressed the permit on the merits of what was happening, not on the emotional testimony given at meetings in favor of the rescue.

"I'm happy with how the City Council handled the meeting. They dealt with the facts and made sure Three Rivers followed the rules that were set forth," Fursman said. "Now that it has come to her attention that she has to be duly responsible for handling those dogs, I'm confident she will."

Now that the ordeal is over, Howard is looking forward to future plans with Three Rivers. She hopes to start a Snoqualmie Valley Alliance that can lobby for animal issues in the Valley as a whole.

"People need to know that it's not just a bunch of weird people that like animals," Howard said. "A good thing about all of this is that I found how much support I have in the Valley."

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