New county code allows 800-square-foot buildings without a permit

MONTESANO — The Grays Harbor County commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance relaxing permit requirements for the construction of any kind of building so long as it doesn’t exceed 800 square feet in size.

The measure quadruples the current exemption to county building codes. The previous standard had allowed property owners in the unincorporated parts of the county to build a one-story detached accessory structure, provided the floor area doesn’t exceed 200 square feet.

The new ordinance also does away with the previous requirement that the exemption only be used for “tool and storage sheds, playhouses and similar uses.” Now, just about anything could be constructed without a building permit — although other county and state regulations may still need to be followed.

For instance, County Commissioner Herb Welch used the current code to build a chicken coop. But when he built a larger storage shed to store his riding lawn mower, he had to pay for a building permit.

The change to an 800-square-foot structure is good for any kind of zoning and for just about any kind of purpose so long as it continues to meet the county’s setback requirements, especially in regards to critical areas protections.

Commissioner Cormier suggested that the change may spur property owners to install garages or sheds and start a business out of their home.

Georgia Bravos of Hoquiam testified during public comment that the measure was a good ordinance because she could see herself using it to put structures on her property the Humptulips area. The previous code “stifled building and, therefore, stifled jobs,” she told the commissioner.

Linda Webb of Hoquiam agreed with the ordinance, as well, noting that the code decades ago allowed the wood shed to be built on her property because it had a value under $1,000. If she had tried to build the same structure before Cormier’s new ordinance, it would have cost her hundreds of dollars.

County Commissioner Frank Gordon reminded the audience that environmental rules still had to be followed. “You can’t build anything, anywhere you want,” he said.

At the same time, Gordon, a trained electrician, says he’s in favor of tweaking the ordinance to make sure members of the public know they have to follow strict state laws regarding wiring and placing electricity in a building and the other codes.

Gordon says he has the fear that someone may try to build something and it’ll fall down on someone.

“I have some real fear,” Gordon said. “I think most people in this room have the ability to build something really well but you can’t believe how many, using the word rather bluntly, dumb s—— there are out there. Oh man, we have a big bunch of them.”

Welch said he’d be in favor of a few changes to it in the future, as well.

Cormier says he’s also in favor of a low administration fee of about $50 that could help offset some of the county’s costs of helping ensure setback requirements are being met.

Brian Little, a member of the county code advisory council, told the commissioners that he had some concerns that if the public builds on drain fields or too close to a creek without seeking proper guidance that they’re structures will have to be moved or torn down.

“The concern I have is we’re walking constituents up to a wall,” Little said.

Last month, the commissioners approved a resolution so that code changes would no longer have to go through the building code advisory council first. But, Little reminded the county, that the group is just there as an advisory capacity to help them make sense of their own rules.


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