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County hopes junk car rules will resolve complaints

One of the most frequent complaints the Island County Planning Department receives concerns “junk cars” littering people’s property.

County officials hope a new ordinance will help resolve resident complaints. The Planning Commission is expected to hold a public hearing next month about the ordinance.

The county’s proposed junk vehicle ordinance defines such cars as inoperable, lacking current registration, extensively damaged or having a market value equal to its scrap value.

The ordinance also provides the following guidelines permitting storage of such vehicles:

l One junk vehicle on a property no greater than one acre in size.

l Two junk vehicles on a property between one and five acres in size.

l Five junk vehicles on land greater than five acres.

The new ordinance won’t apply to people who build a fence or store cars indoors.

“You can have as many cars on your property as you want. You just have it screened,” said Assistant Planning Director Jeff Tate.

He said the new ordinance stems from resident complaints. They were concerned that junk cars in people’s yards are unsightly and lower property values.

“It’s our biggest complaint on a yearly basis,” Tate said.

Tate added that county doesn’t currently have an ordinance that resolves such complaints.

The county does have a junk yard ordinance but had difficulty applying it to residential properties, Tate said.

“All this is going to do is clarify what can and can’t be done,” Tate said and added that that related health and safety regulations aren’t effected by the ordinance.

Even though the county didn’t have a clarified ordinance, it recently took action to clean up several properties on Whidbey Island.

The county filed several lawsuits last fall against several homeowners in Freeland and on central Whidbey to recover hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and facilitate clean up.

While the county hopes the ordinance resolves such complaints, one resident said it’s inappropriate for the county to enact such regulations.

Whidbey Environmental Action Network member Marianne Edain said the “junk” definition leaves too much room for interpretation.

“It’s ridiculously overbroad,” Edain said and added the county shouldn’t legislate aesthetics.

The ordinance says that junk is allowed on a property as long as it doesn’t become excessive and overtake a property.

Edain said the ordinance could open a floodgate of complaints and that public health and safety should be the overriding factors in addressing inoperable vehicles.

South Whidbey Island resident Malcolm Ferrier said the county should have a strict enforcement of junk vehicles.

“I think tightening up on it is a good thing,” Ferrier said and added that such a regulation should help discourage people from littering their property with junk.

He said that it’s a matter of community pride to not have such cars littering people’s property.

The Planning Department worked on the ordinance for the better part of a year. The Island County Planning Commission originally approved the ordinance last month. Tate said that the Island County Prosecutor’s reviewed the regulation and made enough changes in it to warrant another public hearing.

That hearing should take place at the Planning Commission’s meeting held the second Tuesday in February.

There are eight other comprehensive plan amendments that are on the county’s docket this year. However, the public meeting in February has to take place before the amendments can be approved.

“It puts all issues on hold for a period of time,” Tate said.

You can reach News-Times reporter Nathan Whalen at nwhalen@whidbeynewstimes.com or 675-6611.

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