Appeals board backs verdict on huge proposed bed-and-breakfast in Sequim

A Clallam County appeals board has affirmed that the building permit for a proposed 32,000-square-foot bed-and-breakfast on East Sequim Bay Road should be reviewed under the International Building Code.

That means the owner must build according to a more stringent standard than she had planned.

The Clallam County Building Code Board of Appeals voted 4-0 on Dec. 12 to uphold county building official Annette Warren’s determination that the proposed structure at 695 East Sequim Bay Road is classified as a Group R-1 boarding house.

The applicant, Judy Lee of Los Angeles, Calif., and her attorneys argued that the bed-and-breakfast should be classified as a lodging house regulated by the International Residential Code.

Boarding houses and other structures that fall under the International Building Code are required to have more safety features than buildings regulated by the residential code.

The Building Code Board of Appeals issued a review its findings of fact and conclusions of law and signed a decision document in a special meeting Dec. 15 affirming the decision.

“We’re very pleased with their decision and we were very impressed with their professionalism and the calls that they made and the findings that they produced,” said Mary Ellen Winborn, Clallam County Department of Community Development director, in a Dec. 13 interview.

The appeals board held a public hearing on Lee’s appeal Nov. 28.

Lee has indicated through her attorneys that she plans to appeal the volunteer board’s decision in Superior Court.

The International Residential Code governs one- and two-family dwellings that do not exceed three stories above the ground.

Plans that Lee submitted show a three-story building with a 12-foot-high basement. The basement has room for a seven-vehicle garage, family room, game room, male and female exercise rooms, theater and chart room, Building Code Board of Appeals member Gene Unger said.

“The plans present a four-story building,” Unger said.

“This being a logical interpretation of the drawings, using the code, by the building official.”

Board chairman Ken Dubuc, who also is the Port Angeles fire chief, agreed that the 12-foot-tall basement constitutes a fourth floor, which “by code cannot be regulated by the International Residential Code.”

The second floor of the steel and concrete structure would contain five guestrooms for bed-and-breakfast guests and a tea room, lounge and business center for guests and Lee’s family, according to a memo from Seattle attorney Steve Gillespie in an Oct. 25 memo to the board.

Other floors would contain bedrooms and other living space for Lee and her family, Gillespie said.

Gillespie argued that the bed-and-breakfast should not be considered a boarding house because his client and her husband will live inside the building.

Under county code, bed-and-breakfasts are defined as a single-family dwellings occupied by the owner or manager with five or fewer rooms for overnight accommodations.

“The plans show five residential guest rooms, four having two significant rooms and the fifth having three significant rooms, not counting ancillary rooms which people could sleep in and occupy,” Unger said.

“Thus, a total of 11 guestrooms exist on the plans.”

Dubuc countered that the Building Code Board of Appeals should not assume that Lee would convert the bed-and-breakfast space into more than five bedrooms.

“I would assume that the applicant is being truthful,” Dubuc said. “That’s only fair.”

Since the bed-and-breakfast would be a commercial business, building inspections would remedy concerns about the occupancy of the second floor, Dubuc added.

Other board members said Lee’s appeal was time-barred because the building permit was confirmed July 20 and the appeal was filed 100 days later, on Oct. 28. The code allows 60 days for an appeal.

Dubuc said the timing issue was moot because it was out of the board’s purview.

The primary issue was whether or not the building met the three-story requirement of the International Residential Code, Dubuc said.

“The issue then was brought up, ‘Well, all we have to do is shave off an inch (from the basement height) and then we’ll be at 11-and-11,’” Dubuc said. “I find that, although probably legally correct, clearly doesn’t meet the intent of the code. And again, the building official, as pointed out, has the ability to make determinations based upon intent.

“I’ve long been taught that just because something’s legal doesn’t make it right,” he added. “To shave an inch off may be legal. It doesn’t make it right.”

Last summer, Clallam County commissioners received testimony from East Sequim Road residents who were concerned about the size of the bed-and-breakfast.

At the time, the county had no size restriction for structures in rural residential areas.

On June 26, Commissioners Mark Ozias and Mike Chapman voted — with Commissioner Bill Peach opposed — to enact an 60-day emergency ordinance limiting buildings in rural residential areas to 10,000 square feet.

That ordinance did not affect Lee’s project because the building permit application had been vested.

The 60-day ordinance was later repealed and replaced by a six-month ordinance that accomplishes the same thing.

Besides her appeal for a building permit, Lee is seeking approvals for a short plat alteration, stormwater plan and permits for road approach, septic, drainage and erosion, Gillespie said in his memo to the Building Code Board of Appeals.

Board member Bill Feeley was recused by his colleagues from the Dec. 12 deliberations after a challenge from Port Angeles attorney Craig Miller, who is representing Lee.

Miller argued that Feeley’s participation would constitute a violation of the appearance of fairness doctrine because he had drafted an opinion describing his stance on the appeal and because he had ex parte contact with Lee’s neighbors outside of the record of the appeal.

Feeley said he expected to be absent because of a family medical emergency and wrote the opinion to get it on the record.

“I have talked to no one about it,” Feeley said. “And I think if you want to get rid of me, I would call BS on that.”

“Call BS on whatever you want, Mr. Feeley,” Miller said. “You have prejudged this matter without participation in the deliberations, and having done so, you are disqualified from participation.”

Rob Ollikainen is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group. He can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsula dailynews.com.

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