PORT ANGELES — The two candidates competing for the Clallam County Director of the Department of Community Development position disagree on many issues, including how to address code enforcement and what should be considered a bed and breakfast.
Incumbent Mary Ellen Winborn, who has held the position for one term, faced off against Julie Gardiner, general manager at Craig L. Miller and Associates, in a League of Women Voters forum Wednesday night. Both seek the position on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
The position is the only elected DCD director in the nation.
Winborn told the packed room that under her leadership DCD’s code enforcement is now fully staffed.
When asked how they would address the number of recreational vehicles (RVs) used as residences, Winborn and Gardiner took different approaches.
Winborn said there is a need to introduce an RV ordinance that would have to go through the Clallam County Planning Commission and the Board of County Commissioners. She said she would welcome ideas from the public.
“When I first moved here 26 years ago, the county just wasn’t very developed,” she said. “Now it is and that is putting a lot of pressure on us to clean it up.”
Gardiner said “things have changed” and that RVs have become a standard living situation.
She said the county needs to get RVs out of single-family neighborhoods and that voluntary compliance isn’t the answer.
“My concern is the lack of enforcement on the ones that are on the ground and that requires abatement orders, not voluntary compliance,” she said. “Abatement is when you enter and resolve a situation that has been going unresolved for years and years and years.”
Winborn countered, saying, “Ms. Gardiner doesn’t understand the hearings examiner process and voluntary compliance.”
Winborn said the county first tries for voluntary compliance on issues. If that doesn’t work, her department brings the issue before a hearings examiner.
From there, it can move on to Superior Court, she said.
Earlier this year the county pursued abatement of a property near Sequim through Clallam County Superior Court, the first time any officials could recall taking such steps in many years.
“There is a process,” Winborn said.
Gardiner criticized the use of a hearings examiner, calling his judgments a “half measure.”
She said the only judgments that are needed come from Superior Court and that voluntary compliance is “a social education program on how to live better. It is not enforcement.”
Bed and breakfast
Gardiner and Winborn also disagreed about the definition of what is considered a bed and breakfast.
Winborn, who is facing a federal lawsuit over a proposed 30,000-square-foot bed and breakfast, cited county code that says bed and breakfasts are limited to five rooms for overnight accommodations.
“Once you go beyond five … it becomes a hotel and it has more restrictions,” she said. “You have to put exit stairs in, fire suppression systems, just like any hotel you’ve been in.”
She deemed Judy Lee’s proposed bed and breakfast a hotel, meaning the structure is not allowed on the property Lee has proposed.
Gardiner, who manages her husband’s law firm that provided local counsel for Lee through 2016, disagreed on the definition of a bed and breakfast.
“The legal distinction between the two is a [bed and breakfast] must be owner-occupied,” she said.
She said of all structures that provide overnight accommodations, bed and breakfasts are the only ones limited by the number of rooms.
Gardiner faced multiple questions about her involvement with the law firm that provided legal counsel to Lee.
One person asking a question said, “I don’t understand why this isn’t a conflict of interest and how you wouldn’t bring that agenda in … There are a lot of people who don’t want what seems like a hotel next to them.”
Gardiner said the firm doesn’t represent Lee and did not file the lawsuit.
“Yes, there’s a lawsuit that has [Winborn’s] name on it, not mine, but nonetheless it means this permit is alive and well,” Gardiner said.
Winborn said the law firm was the local representative for the law firm suing her and said it “could be a conflict of interest.”
Though the firm Gardiner manages represented Lee, Gardiner said the application for the bed and breakfast was “one of the worst” applications she had ever seen.
“You couldn’t tell exactly what it was they were going to do and for that reason it was never complete,” she said. “It’s still alive and well and the neighborhood will experience it if she prevails in court.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].