Sequim seeks a hearing examiner for land use permits, appeals

Decision follows city council’s request over fairness concerns

SEQUIM — Sequim city officials are moving forward with hiring a hearing examiner to hear all quasi-judicial land use permits and appeals.

City staff opened the request for proposal (RFP) last week with a closing date of 4 p.m. April 8.

The move comes after years of discussion over the city council’s role in these decisions, culminating in a 6-1 city council vote on Feb. 14 — with William Armacost opposed — to direct city staff to amend the city’s municipal code.

Council members finalized the changes 5-0 on March 14, with Armacost and Mayor Tom Ferrell excused.

The revision to Sequim Municipal Code Chapter 20.01 directs all allowable quasi-judicial matters, except rezones and the comprehensive plan, to a hearing examiner. It allows city council members to speak freely with constituents and advocates without violating fairness doctrine, according to city attorney Kristina Nelson-Gross.

The revision is recommended by the city’s risk pool, too, she added.

A new hearing examiner could make final decisions on closed record appeals, subdivisions, binding site plans, special/conditional use, and planned residential developments and major amendments under the revision.

Deputy Mayor Brandon Janisse first advocated for the change last December to fellow council members, saying there are multiple projects that would prohibit him from fairly sitting in a quasi-judicial hearing.

A new hearing examiner, according to the city’s request, would “conduct fair and impartial administrative and quasi-judicial hearings and issue decisions on land use matters, regulatory compliance, code enforcement, and other issues designated to the position based on relevant ordinances, statutes, and other authorities, as now in effect or as later amended.”

Under the city’s request, some of this person’s or firm’s background would include familiarity with land use and zoning law, comprehensive knowledge of the state Growth Management Act, state Environmental Policy Act and building codes, as well as municipal code enforcement and knowledge of how to conduct public meetings and hearings.

Applications will be reviewed by City Manager Matt Huish, Community Development Director Barry Berezwosky and Nelson-Gross before going to the city council for final approval.

Sequim last hired a hearing examiner, Phil Olbrechts and Associates, in March 2020 to consider appeals of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s medication-assisted treatment (MAT) clinic, now named the Jamestown Healing Clinic, off South Ninth Avenue.

Olbrechts denied most of the appeals against the clinic, saying they lacked standing.

But he agreed to stipulated conditions under the Mitigated Determination of Nonsignificance (MDNS) appeal between the city and tribe and he instituted a safety monitoring program for the clinic that tentatively opens in mid-April.

He required the tribe and city hire a Social Services Navigator prior to occupancy with funding from the tribe through a Memorandum of Understanding and Agreement to provide social service assistance to patients and other persons in need of Substance Use Disorder (SUD) and mental health assistance within the city.

The tribe is required to fund three years for the position up to $100,000 a year.

Tribal leaders said in recent interviews they’ve agreed to a three-year contract with Peninsula Behavioral Health to contract services for the position with oversight by the Sequim Police Department.

Olbrechts also mandated the formation of a Community Advisory Committee that city staff said must “develop a monitoring and evaluation program for the clinic and to develop a contingency plan to identify corrective measures if the clinic causes impacts to public services through increased demands on law enforcement and other emergency services.”

Sequim Police Chief Sheri Crain said in an interview the committee is nearing the completion of its plans for the clinic.

Once open, the clinic’s doctors plan to dispense daily doses of methadone, Suboxone and Vivitrol for patients with opioid-use disorder while offering wrap-around services, such as various counseling services.

Prior to Olbrechts making a decision on the clinic’s appeals, he told city staff the city’s Municipal Code prevented him from hearing the tribe’s appeal for the city’s State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) decision under the A-2 process, and any decision he made could be overturned in court. So city staff recommended an interim ordinance and most council members agreed to amend it to allow the hearing examiner to hear the tribe’s appeal of the city’s stipulations.

Council members last July voted 4-3 to let the interim ordinance lapse and allow some appeals to go before the city council, and the rest — code enforcement appeals, certain construction appeals like building permits and sign permits, and variances — to a hearing examiner.

The updated March 14 decision now sends these decisions to the future hearing examiner.

For more on the hearing examiner request for proposal, visit


Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at

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