County code enforcement riles owners of businesses
Battling cancer for the third time, a dying John Hokenson fought King County's orders to close his home business. Citing a code violation...
Seattle Times South King County reporter
Battling cancer for the third time, a dying John Hokenson fought King County's orders to close his home business.
Citing a code violation, the county told Hokenson that his RV-storage business, which he'd run for more than 15 years, wasn't allowed. The business that he depended on for income was to be shut down within a year.
Hokenson died in December. His business, now run by a friend, must close this summer, but his neighbors — many of whom run home-based businesses along the same stretch of road in unincorporated King County — are fighting their own, similar battle.
"It's been arduous to say the least," said Larry Baumgart, Hokenson's friend who cares for his property and businesses.
Baumgart is one of a group of home-based business owners in South King County who say they're being unfairly targeted by county code-enforcement officers. Several, mostly industrial businesses in that rural corridor between Covington and Maple Valley have been ordered to shut down, while more than a dozen other owners say they're constantly hassled over potential code violations.
Frustrated, owners are banding together to fight for the businesses they've run for decades.
Officials with the King County Department of Development and Environmental Services maintain that code-enforcement officers respond to complaints and are merely doing their job. The recent attention is due only to an increase in complaints in the area, said Randy Sandin, director of the department's land-use-services division.
"The only thing we want is compliance — we don't want to harass the property owner," said code-enforcement supervisor Deidre Andrus.
To the many home business owners who operate within the code, it's unfair that there are some who run illegal businesses on their property, Andrus said.
Most of the concern comes from business owners along Southeast 240th Street, a main thoroughfare dotted with homes and businesses, where neighbors rally around the Hokenson case.
Within two miles of Hokenson's property are three home-based businesses — tree-trimming, excavation and RV storage — that have been cited by code enforcement in the last two years.
The county alleges the businesses don't comply with the area's rural zoning regulations. Each of the owners was ordered to make significant changes — from removing equipment to planting buffer trees. (One business has since resolved the county's concerns.)
With 12 full-time code-enforcement officers covering all of King County, Sandin says they don't have time to seek out code violations. They handle more than 2,000 cases each year — a majority of which are resolved voluntarily with the property owner.
Code-enforcement complaints typically come from neighbors, so it's not unusual to have a wave of complaints in one area, Andrus said.
In the pocket of unincorporated King County between Maple Valley and Covington, Ken Burnsed and his wife have run the FunWheels RV- and boat-storage lot for about 15 years on the property where they live.
He says code-enforcement officers have, over time, notified him about code violations concerning junk vehicles and running a self-service storage yard. But it wasn't until this year that he was served with an order to close.
"I don't want to have to fight them ... but I will," Burnsed said.
He said he bought the property with the business in mind and carefully read over the zoning regulations. He said he's tried to improve the neighbor's view by planting ivy to cover a chain-link fence around the property.
Burnsed said that as far as he knows, no one has complained, and he doesn't understand the sudden order to shut down. He's appealing; a hearing is scheduled for August.
County, owners meet
Several business owners met with county officials Thursday.
The county is committed to encouraging rural businesses that fit with the community, said Julia Larson, the county's rural-economic-strategy coordinator. Last year, King County passed legislation to ease zoning restrictions on rural agricultural businesses, allowing garden nurseries and more production and sales space for farmers.
"We do want to support them but we want to make sure they're in character of the rural area," Larson said.
Larson said there are no specific guidelines for businesses in rural King County, and the community needs to help determine what they should be.
Until then, business owners must comply with current zoning and codes. If ordered to close, they have the right to appeal.
Lauren Vane: 206-464-2926 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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