Council agrees to go after code violators

NORTH BEND - The latest City Council meeting saw its members continuing to deal with the growing pains of a small city trying to hold on to high development standards and rural character.

Council members voted at their Tuesday, March 5, meeting to allow the city to file nuisance abatements and start debt collection litigation against four property owners who have not complied with city codes.

Nuisance abatements were approved against three local businesses and residents for failure to comply with city codes regarding building maintenance, signage and floodway fill requirements.

City Attorney Mike Kenyon said the abatements will be given to the property owners, who have the option of complying. If the abatements are not followed, the city can then file for an injunction that will allow it to work on the code violations and charge any costs as liens against the property owners.

The city will also be going after what it said are "delinquent development fees" from George Oh, who tried to build a Hampton Inn hotel off Mount Si Boulevard. Development stalled after the application process became bogged down.

Hotel Brokerage Services President Ty Rice, who sold the land for the hotel to Oh, said that he could not speak to the potential litigation. But Rice did say the city was wrong when it said Oh had given up trying to build a hotel in North Bend and that he and Oh have followed all the rules.

"When you do everything you have to do and a lot more, it's frustrating when this happens," Rice said.

North Bend Community Services Director Larry Stockton said approving a project like a hotel is a long and costly process because the city's residents want to curtail too much growth from occurring.

"North Bend has deliberately chosen to have high standards for development," Stockton said. "To administer those high standards is demanding on the applicant."

Oh was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

The City Council also discussed an ordinance that would steer it clear of any quasijudicial hearings. Complaints against North Bend that would normally be heard at such council hearings would be redirected to King County Superior Court.

In December 2001, the council passed a similar, but narrower, ordinance that referred all local appeals to the State Environmental Policy Act to Superior Court, as well.

Council members who supported the ordinance said it would allow issues to be examined by professionals who know the law while freeing council members to take a stand on those issues.

"We should leave the law to those who know the law," said Councilwoman Elaine Webber.

Other council members thought it would take away power from the people who elected council members as their voice in city government.

"This is just bad policy," said Councilman Bill Wittress. "I can't support it."

Once it became clear that the council was split on the matter, it tabled the ordinance until Councilman Ed Carlson, who was unable to attend the meeting, could be present.

The council also voted 3-1 in favor of continuing its efforts to resolve conflicts surrounding variances granted by the city that would allow development of businessman George Wyrsch's land south of Interstate 90's Exit 31.

In a later interview, Wittress, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said he couldn't comment under advice from the city attorney, but did say there will be a lot of changes in city code and regulation this coming year that may help future development problems from occurring.

Among other items discussed at the meeting, the city's water woes are still far from being solved, but there has been progress, according to attorney Thomas Pors.

Pors, who was hired by the city last year, gave a presentation to the council outlining the work he has done lobbying the state Department of Ecology to grant North Bend more water rights.

Pors encouraged the council to set a deadline it can give other organizations it has to work with to obtain the added rights.

"If you don't have a time frame, the other groups don't respond as well," he said.

Council members agreed with Pors and suggested that one year would be a good deadline, but the sooner the better.

You can reach Ben Cape at (425) 888-2311, or e-mail him at ben.cape@valley

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