PORT ORCHARD — A flier found in mailboxes and a newspaper ad about the county’s consideration of new nuisance property rules might be coming at a time when the issue is at least temporarily moot.
The county’s Department of Community Development shelved what was a fledgling effort to improve code compliance on nuisance properties. One reason was community criticism. Another was the direction of county commissioners. But a single employee also has rendered the effort unnecessary.
Nuisance properties include those with dangerous structures, an accumulation of trash or junk vehicles. The county’s efforts to improve its ability to get compliance on those properties generated a storm of criticism earlier this year when drafts of proposed code changes met the ire of some of the county’s most watchful eyes.
Bill Palmer, president of the Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners, said that both drafts of the proposed code changes were bad and that the county never adequately described what problems it was trying to address. “There was no documentation to indicate that the problem existed or that there was a need for the kind of ordinance proposed to solve the problem,” he said.
But Palmer said he will give the county credit for its recent improvements in dealings with property owners. “When government is doing a good job I’ll give them kudos,” he said. “I am pleased that they are taking a better approach to things.”
KAPO was joined by the Kitsap County Association of Realtors, the Home Builders Association of Kitsap County and the Kitsap Patriots Tea Party in challenging code revisions.
Of particular concern were items that as written would have turned civil property complaints into criminal matters and given county officers too much power to enter properties without permission of the property owners or even the courts.
County Commissioner Charlotte Garrido said once a draft proposal got in front of commissioners and after hearing from staff, residents and the county prosecutor’s office, the commissioners asked that the work be suspended. “That is not a priority at this moment,” she said. “We have no plans to review it at any time.”
County Commissioner Rob Gelder said the commissioners did ask Community Development to come back to the commissioners with a statement explaining what the problem is but there is no deadline.
Some of the early concern came when the original draft of proposed changes were released after being vetted by no one, Community Development Director Larry Keeton said. The department was not intending to allow its compliance officers to enter properties without a warrant, but that’s how the first document was written, Keeton acknowledged. A second draft reduced some of the department’s ability to go onto properties without permission but not enough, Palmer said.
What has made the most difference in the past six months, however, is the addition of Holly Hunter in the code compliance staff, Keeton said.
The county has had trouble getting compliance from some properties, with some disputes going on as long as a couple of decades, Keeton said. Part of the problem was the department’s approach, going after people with a more punitive approach than one that would invite compliance.
Hunter came to the county six months ago and demonstrated how a more amicable approach could be offered within existing code. “Sometimes it’s not the code, it’s the person,” Keeton said. “If you’re getting success that way, I don’t need to go get code to make it work.”
Keeton agreed with commissioners that the county’s comprehensive plan update, due for completion in 2016, takes a much higher precedence than devoting any staff time to the nuisance code revisions, so those revisions are off the table.
The word has not spread everywhere. Marcus Johnson, of Bremerton, found alarming the information on a flier suggesting what the county had considered doing.
The flier was stuffed by hand into his residence’s mailbox. The flier incorrectly asserts county code would give city code officers additional rights, but the rest of it more or less copies earlier arguments made by KAPO and others.
“I don’t know how people are educated and come up with something like this,” Johnson said of the county’s proposed code, especially the part about warrantless property entry.
The Kitsap County Association of Realtors printed an advertisement in the Nov. 23 edition of the Kitsap Sun urging county residents to thank commissioners for pushing the code revision process back and to encourage them to adopt what they consider a “balanced” approach.
Mike Eliason, association executive for the Kitsap Association of Realtors, said the county’s decision to stop the process completely is great news. His organization was under the impression that the “clear problem statement” was due in the first quarter, because that requirement was included in a county news release that as of Friday still was on Community Development’s website.
Eliason and Palmer both said that there are problem properties in the county and that code enforcement is an important county function. Eliason said should the county decide in the future it does need to revise its code that the Realtors want to be part of the conversation.
Palmer said that he hopes the code revision proposal is off the table for good and that the county also will consider reducing the fees it charges when residents are working to make their properties compliant.