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Bowen ~ Non Conforming Houses Worth Less

January 14, 2012
To The Editor,

I have been mulling over the non-conforming designation issue that is part of the proposed San Juan County’s rewrite of the Critical Areas Ordinance. The County is planning on extending a new regulatory overlay called a "buffer" around the islands wetlands and streams and along the 400 miles of County shorelines. The buffer overlays are intended to provide a natural barrier from human use as a protection for the designated critical areas. The proposed buffer widths range up to 300 feet; no small matter.

The Friends of the San Juan's support the County’s buffer proposals and in their newspaper ads say buffers should not be a worry to a property owner if their home, associated structures and uses (such as driveways or landscaping) are declared non-conforming. The Department of Ecology says that the purpose of a non-conforming designation is the eventual elimination of the non-conforming use; in this case a home. I am not sure a new layer of regulatory restrictions is in a property owners best interest. Maybe it is something to pay attention to.

 The way I look at it, is to imagine a hypothetical example; two homes that are for sale and identical in every way inside and out. If one home has no restrictions on the use or replacement other than the typical County rules, and the other is encumbered by a County non-conforming use overlay, complete with new rules and restrictions under the Critical Area Ordinance, which would I choose to buy? The obvious answer is to choose the home without the added rules and restrictions associated with the non-conforming designation.

Considering that literally thousands of existing upland and shoreline homes ....maybe yours..... will become non-conforming uses unless the County Council directs the County’s planners to change direction, now is a very good time to contact your Council representatives. The Council’s final decisions will be made in the next several months.

Fred Bowen

Friday Harbor