Douglascalls stop-work orders ‘a public lynching’

Published on Thu, Jul 20, 2006 by ack Kintner

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Douglas calls stop-work orders ‘a public lynching’

By Jack Kintner

Bellingham developer Joel Douglas appeared before a work session of the Blaine City Council last Monday to appeal rulings made earlier this year that supported two stop work orders issued by the city on Douglas’s Seascape Condominium project on Peace Portal Way.

The stop work orders were issued last winter. One applied to work that the city contended was being done on city property and the other to stormwater drainage construction that the city contended was being done without the proper permits.

In an appeal to the city hearing examiner, Roger Ellingson, Douglas claimed that the city was wrong on both counts and that stopping work when he did had caused damage to the structure. He also successfully challenged Ellingson’s qualification to act as hearing examiner because of Ellingson’s involvement in another related legal matter. Ellingson was replaced by Blaine municipal court judge (and Whatcom County Hearing Examiner) Michael Bobbink.

Bobbink initially ruled that the city had acted improperly in issuing the building permit to Douglas since a preliminary permit hadn’t been issued at the time, but that the stop work orders were valid.

Both parties appealed his ruling. Douglas said that he had submitted all the material required and had permission to proceed but that the city had mislaid his plans. The city asked Bobbink to rule the entire building permit for Seascape invalid based on legal precedent that said an illegally issued building permit, even if it was the fault of the issuing party, in this case Blaine, cannot be considered valid for allowing work to proceed.

In response Bobbink stepped back from his earlier ruling about the legality of the city’s issuing a building permit because, he said, the matter was not germane to the question of having the right permits and plans in place. He did, however, re-affirm the validity of the city’s stop work orders.

It was this decision that Douglas appealed to the council. Each side, Douglas represented by in-house counsel William Pardee and Blaine, represented by city attorney Jon Sitkin, got 15 minutes to present their case. Before debate began Sitkin and Pardee agreed that each side would take 10 minutes and save five minutes for rebuttal.

Douglas went first and presented a copy of the index to plans submitted a year ago that include a site plan with the city’s building department stamp and signature as proof that he had submitted the material requested in a timely manner. He went on to express his anger and frustration, comparing what happened to him at the hands of the city as comparable to “a public lynching.”

“What I want you to consider now is that this is your opportunity to do what’s right, and if not now when?” He added that city delays had cost him in sales as well.

Jon Sitkin said in rebuttal that, “There are two types of site plans, one is called for under the city building code and another under the zoning code. A city stamp on the site plan submitted for a building permit is not the same as an approval of a zoning site plan.”

Sitkin cited letters written from the city to Douglas from January 2006 through the summer advising him that he didn’t yet have storm water approval or site plan approval.

“We think the record’s perfectly clear. Interior and residential building was allowed to proceed, but work outside that affects the city storm water system and which is on the city right of way was stopped. There’s no basis in material fact to overturn the hearing examiner’s decision, which is supported by five days of testimony,” said Sitkin.

Douglas responded with material that showed city approval of various kinds of designs and plans, “we had all this in, early, $13,000 worth of work and they just lost it. They never responded to any of this. We’ve given them all the material they’ve asked for.”

]He added that when asked the city to find their copy they couldn’t, so they lost it. You need to see this document that shows this, but your attorney doesn’t want you to, he doesn’t want you to see the truth.”
Since technically the appeal to the council is based on the existing record, it’s limited to material available to the hearing examiner when he reached the decision that’s now being appealed, Sitkin explained, and he then objected to the introduction of new material that Douglas sought to introduce. This was sustained by Blaine mayor Mike Myers.

The council discussed the matter briefly before adjourning and will deal with it again in a work session prior to its regular 7 p.m. meeting on Monday, July 24, when they plan to make a decision.