Chelan and Douglas counties withdraw homebuilding resolutions after Governor’s warning

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WENATCHEE — The commissioners of both Chelan and Douglas counties voted today to rescind resolutions that would have allowed local home construction to continue, after Gov. Jay Inslee’s office warned they ran counter to Washington’s proclaimed state of emergency.

“That action was reluctantly taken, as we do not agree with your interpretation that this Resolution violated either the direction or the intent of the Governor’s Proclamation 20-25,” the Chelan County Board of Commissioners wrote in an accompanying letter to Kathryn Leathers, Inslee’s chief legal counsel.

Kathryn Leathers: Chief legal counsel to Gov. Jay Inslee

Proclamation 20-25 is Inslee’s March 25 “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order that directed Washingtonians to limit public exposure and shuttered many classes of business, to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Home construction is among those businesses deemed nonessential, and builders’ associations have lobbied fiercely to have their industry reclassified. on April 8, Douglas County became the first county in Washington to pass new rules allowing some homebuilding in the jurisdiction.

Chelan County followed April 14, with a similar resolution that was more limited in scope. Both counties asked building projects to meet certain permitting criteria, and to use health and social distancing practices to minimize viral spread on job sites.

But Leathers warned in letters to both counties on Friday that the measures violated state law and risked legal liability for both the counties and builders who followed the local guidelines. “More importantly, the Board of County Commissioners’ action promotes unnecessary strain on scarce personal protective equipment and puts lives at risk,” she wrote.

While rescinding their construction ordinance, Douglas County’s three commissioners passed a new resolution ordering single-family homebuilding projects to go forward, if stopping them “would render an individual(s) displaced or homeless.” Chelan County drafted a similar resolution and sent it to Leathers, asking for clarification on how homelessness would be defined under the state of emergency.

The Chelan County draft also would fast-track projects in the Lake Chelan basin, where construction pilings already in place might be damaged by rising lake levels if building goes unfinished.

“We consider all of these questions to be time sensitive and cannot wait for deliberations by ‘work groups’ that have no deadline for recommendations,” the commissioners wrote.

All three boardmembers — Doug England, Bob Bugert and Kevin Overbay — signed onto the correspondence, asking for a response by Friday.

England, who chairs the Chelan County Board of Commissioners, says the county will pass a new and more limited resolution on homebuilding Monday, if it doesn’t get clear guidance from the governor.

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England says a total of 97 home projects got permits from Chelan County under its building resolution. With the withdrawal, he says, those projects are once again in limbo.