Quoting The Olympian of Sunday, November 29th:
Permit process gone awry creates nightmare in Yelm
Land Use: New house empty as pair try to get it back on track
“The house sits empty. More than seven months since its completion, the Smiths cant move in.
They are caught in a land-use process gone awry.
The city issued a building permit for the home despite a development condition that prohibited it. Now, to uphold a second condition, the city refuses to issue an occupancy permit to the Smiths.
The developer was unable to install required improvements because of the U.S. financial meltdown, although both city and builder were assuming the improvements were moving forward when the building permit was requested and issued.
The builder, who was involved in the early stages of the land-use process, acknowledged he could have done more to head off the crisis if he had better information. The city said he had the information and bears blame for the resulting mess.
‘In hindsight, everybody can share in some of the fault here,’ said Dan Lee, the builder.
Its a cautionary tale for homeowners dipping their toe in a housing market remade by the economic crisis.
Its no clearer today than it was in April as to when the Smiths, experienced home buyers who have owned three homes previously, will be able to move in. Theyve spent tens of thousands of dollars in their efforts to do so, but the possible solution on the table likely requires them to spend more money and excuse the city of any liability it might hold in the matter, steps that Andy Smith might not be able to afford or agree to…
The City Council gave final subdivision approval in February 2008 at the request of Chamberlain [developer Steve Chamberlain of Tahoma Terra & defaulted Thurston Highlands fame!], who needed it to convert more expensive construction financing into long-term financing. Two conditions were placed on the plat:
The city would not issue a building permit for any of the lots until the pump [booster pump on an elevated plat] was installed, with the exception of a model home.
It would not issue an occupancy permit until the sewer valve was installed…
Community Development Director Grant Beck said Lee asked the city building official to issue the permit, substituting the Smiths home for the model home that was exempted under the condition, so construction of a single home could proceed.
The city granted the permit despite the council-approved condition, Beck said, because permits and plans for the pump and sewer valve had been submitted and both projects appeared to be moving ahead. He said that the city made it clear to Lee that it would not issue an occupancy permit until the conditions on the recorded plat were satisfied. Beck said the city assumed Lee informed the Smiths of the plat conditions and they agreed to move forward despite the risk.
The Smiths said they knew none of this. They first learned of the plat conditions in June, nine months later.
In hindsight, Beck acknowledged the city should have handled the situation differently. Beck added he expected if the city had not issued the permit, the Smiths would have gone to the City Council to lobby for it anyway.
‘It would have been the same battle with a different face,’ he said.
Lee said he was not told of the plat conditions when he requested the permit. While he was aware of the water pressure concern from the initial meeting in 2005, he said it faded into the background now that his focus was on building the home, not the land-use issues. He said the concern was allayed because Chamberlain told him he had secured financing to build the improvements, prompting Lee to file for the permit.
‘It kind of relieved my concerns about the booster station,’ he said.
Lee said Chamberlain later told him financing had not come through.
Both the city and builder were operating with the understanding that Chamberlain would finish the improvements, which turned out not to be the case. The housing bubble had burst, and bank lending was in a deep freeze. A future phase of Palisades West is now in foreclosure, according to a notice of trustees sale. Chamberlain did not return messages for comment left at his office and cell phone Tuesday and Wednesday.
Lee heard that the city would not issue an occupancy permit until the improvements were installed from a building inspector during construction of the home and in a copy of a letter from the city sent in December. In both cases, however, Lee said he thought the improvements were part of a verbal agreement between the city and Chamberlain and did not know they were recorded on the subdivision plat. He said he learned otherwise in April…
Initial negotiations over the summer led to a proposal by the city to amend the plat to exempt the Smiths properties from the conditions. With some minor changes, the Smiths engineer, Vince McClure, maintained that the existing systems were more than adequate to serve a single home.
The council has not formally voted on the amendment. The citys lawyer, Brent Dille, said that it would open the city to liability and could run afoul of state regulations for water systems and jeopardize its operating permit.
Smith thought the central issue before the City Council was fire safety and was bewildered that new issues were broached.
‘I wonder where it stops,’ he said, according to video of the meeting posted on the citys Web site. ‘I wonder where some sanity comes into this where we can find some solutions.’
Equally galling to the Smiths was that the city of Yelm would take no responsibility for issuing a permit that the Smiths contend shouldnt have been issued…
The engineers representing the city and the Smiths have come up with some interim solutions to resolve the pressure issues for the home to allow the Smiths to move in. The proposal was forwarded to the state Department of Health for its review. On Tuesday, the council tabled the matter until the first meeting in January to allow adequate time for the review.
But even if that passes muster, theres still the liability issue. The City Council has directed staff that any solution must protect the city from any past or future liability. Smith said hes not sure he wants to go that far. And the Smiths will have to pay for any engineering solution because Andy Smith said the city maintains that its prohibited from spending public money to benefit an individual homeowner.
The Smiths are disheartened. Cynthia Smiths eyes well up when she talks about it. Andy Smith says hes gotten empty promises from city officials who have pledged to find a resolution; he said the city made a mistake and should fix it.
‘Im not sure whats going on, but they dont want us in that house,’ he said.
COMMENTS TO THE OLYMPIAN SAID THIS:
1. “Any other city or county would have not have issued the permit until improvements were made, the city is at fault as much as anyone else. But like any other government office they will NOT take responsibility. FLAKES.”
2. “So let’s get this straight. Yelm’s development bureaucrat, Grant Beck, issues a building permit “because permits and plans for the pump and sewer valve had been submitted and both projects appeared to be moving ahead,” after which he speculates that “the Smiths would have gone to the City Council to lobby for it anyway.” Decisions based on such pure speculation display an incompetence that would result in immediate dismissal if any standard of good business, or good sense had been invoked. But then, when are bureaucrats ever held to objective standards of efficiency, decency and intelligence? They aren’t. It’s the Smiths and others like them who take the hit politicians and bureaucrats so often earn, and so regularly avoid. After all, they’re untouchable. How sad.”
3. “I’m not sure how anyone could “fall in love” with Yelm, unless this couple had been transfered from the desert. Yelm is overpopulated, bottlenecked with traffic, and run by a good ole’ boy city government and court. It is why many educated folks flee the area as soon as they can. Between the greedy developers and city officials prematurely issuing building permits, the Smiths are screwed. I would try and get the final permit, waive liability for the city, and just get the hell out of dodge. Cut your losses. Things tend to get worse in Yelm, not better. Yelm is a sinkhole that will soon be out of water from overissuance of building permits, but that’s another story….”
IF ONLY THESE PEOPLE KNEW JUST HOW BANG-ON THEY ARE!
This is the same developer, same City Development Director, same Mayor & same City Council that has the City of Yelm in alot of hot water, as covered here previously:
Let’s tally the carnage of this city’s policies.
A chronology of Yelm’s recent water actions:
1. Nov. 7, 2008 Thurston County Judge Chris Wickham upholds the case against the City of Yelm and says “appropriate provisions” for potable water supplies must be determined by the city by the time of final plat approval in developments.
2. On June 12, 2009, the City of Yelm finally made public their long-awaited Draft Water System Plan [then click “Utilities & Streets”, then “Water Plan Update”], which still has not been approved by Depts. of health or Ecology.
3. On July 20, 2009 Dept. of Ecology commented on the McMonigle water right & REVERSED the decision of the Thurston County Conservancy Board approving that Water Right Chnage Application.
4. On August 14, 2009, the City of Yelm announced the withdrawal of their Mitigated Determination of Non-significance (MDNS) due to lack of acquiring water rights.
5. On October 20, 2009, the City of Yelm received a letter from the Washington State Dept. of Health making two comments about Yelm’s Water System Plan (WSP) that are detrimental to Health approving the city’s WSP.
6. On October 26, 2009, Mayor Ron Harding wrote a letter to private citizen Alice McMonigle to condemn her water rights with the city’s intent to acquire those rights through eminent domain.
7. On November 10, 2009, the Yelm City Council approved Ordinance 914 unanimously and without discussion to begin the condemnation of the McMonigle Water Rights in order to acquire them for the city’s use, with City Administrator Badger saying the city has spent $200,000 in legal fees on this issue alone.
This is on top of the hundreds of thousands of dollars the city had not been paid in fees and taxes with the default of Thurston Highlands.
The downright negligent decisions and lack of candor from this city’s officials is absolutely astounding!
THIS CITY’S OFFICIALS NEVER TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANY OF THEIR MESSES.
EVEN WHEN TAKEN TO COURT AND THE COURT RULES AGAINST THEIR ACTIONS, THEY OPERATE LIKE THE COURT RULING DID NOT EXIST!
Quoting The Olympian:
“But even if that passes muster, theres still the liability issue. The City Council has directed staff that any solution must protect the city from any past or future liability. Smith said hes not sure he wants to go that far.”
THIS WRITER HOPES THE SMITHS HOLD THE CITY’S FEET TO THE FIRE TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY.
THE CITY WAS WARNED ON-THE-RECORD BY ME & SEVERAL OTHERS THAT THEIR POLICIES WERE GOING TO LEAD TO LAWSUITS. THEY ARE ATTEMPTING TO HOLD BACK THE FLOOD OF THEM NOW.
THIS IS THE BOTTOM LINE,
whether Beck, Harding or the city Council take responsibility of this or not:
“The city issued a building permit for the home despite a development condition that prohibited it. Now, to uphold a second condition, the city refuses to issue an occupancy permit to the Smiths.