Nov 22

Shoreline rules pinch Coupeville property owner’s bottom line

Whidbey Examiner – September 26, 2008

The first complaint from a Front Street property owner about restrictions imposed by Coupeville’s new shoreline master plan has officials at Coupeville (WA) Town Hall barely holding back a big “I told you so.” “This is exactly the kind of situation we were trying to avoid,” Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard said.

Coupeville property owner Millie Fonda stands in front of her building on Front Street. Fonda said restrictions placed on her building by Coupeville’s new shoreline master plan are putting her finances in dire straits.

Millie Fonda, the owner of a historic three-story building, recently inquired whether or not she would able to move into the bottom floor of her building. The space, which once housed Great Times Espresso, has been vacant since the Coupeville Coffeehouse closed last spring. Fonda said she has been unable to find someone who wants to rent the space for a business, in part because it needs considerable renovation.

But the work will take several months, and Fonda needs to earn an income from her building as soon as possible. “I need the revenue from that space to be able to pay my mortgage,” she said. The solution Fonda came up with was to make up the lost revenue by renting out the upstairs apartment where she currently resides. Her plan was to move her belongings into the former coffee shop and live there while she works on fixing it up.

Fonda said the building’s previous owner had once used the bottom floor as a residence, which led her to believe she could do the same. But when Fonda asked Coupeville Town Planner Larry Kwarsick for a permit to use the commercially zoned space for a residence, she was told her request would likely be denied. Fonda said she thinks the rejection is unfair.

“I am being denied the use of my property in a way it has previously and historically been used,” Fonda wrote in a statement she delivered to the Examiner. According to Conard, Fonda has not been denied the permit because she never actually applied for one. Conard said Fonda was simply advised that an application would likely be denied.

“Her right to apply has not been denied,” Conard said. “We just know what the law would support.” Fonda could apply for a conditional-use permit under the current shoreline plan, but Kwarsick said the process takes months and requires the approval of the state Department of Ecology. And based on the agency’s input regarding the recently approved shoreline plan, Kwarsick said he thinks the agency also would turn down Fonda’s request. (…)

Conard echoed those sentiments, saying that many of the people who criticized the plan probably didn’t realize all the consequences those complaints would have. She speculated that most would see Fonda’s request as legitimate. “This just breaks my heart,” Conard said. “I really feel bad for Millie.”

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