County tightens junk car ordinance

That classic Gremlin up on blocks may be your pride and joy, and you’re going to restore it any day now with the spare car in the driveway, but it’s an eyesore to the neighbors.

Island County Commissioners Monday amended the junk car ordinance to try to rein in the problem of too many junkers piling up and ruining the neighborhood.

Assistant Planning Director Jeff Tate said junk cars is the major complaint they get in the planning department. Until now, it was hard to enforce because there was no clear definition of “junk vehicle,” or how many was too many.

Now there is. According to Comp Plan Amendment 190/03 a junk vehicle is defined as any vehicle which is:

* Apparently inoperable; or without a valid, current registration plate or license tabs; and is extensively damaged, including but not limited to any of the following: A damaged window or windshield, or missing wheels, tires, motor, or transmission; or has an approximate fair market value equal only to the approximate value of the scrap in it.

For the purpose of the ordinance, “vehicle” includes any device capable of being moved on a public highway, including bicycles and motorcycles.

Shade tree mechanics don’t have to get rid of everything however. Under the ordinance property one acre or less can have one junker, property one to five acres can have up to two junk vehicles, and property greater than five acres can have up to five vehicles.

Tate said there is an overlap between up to one acre and the one to five acre parameters, but that it is unlikely there will be any properties of exactly one acre.

Can’t bear to choose between which babies to actually junk? You may not have to make that Sophie’s choice.

The ordinance also says a property may contain any number of vehicles if they are completely enclosed within a legally constructed building; secondary to a legally established permitted use, such as farm equipment; or if all offending vehicles are completely screened from view by a berm, landscaping, fencing or existing native vegetation.

The ordinance applies only to private property, not commercial properties, especially those for whom junked cars may be their livelihood.

Commissioners’ meeting attendant Rufus Rose questioned whether the commissioners had considered the “yard art” issue in developing the junk ordinance, as much of what some consider art, others might consider junk.

“There seems to be a huge potential for complaints,” he said.

Planning Director Phil Bakke responded that there was a reasonable amount of flexibility built into the ordinance.

Tate later said the code will be enforced as it always has been, with warnings followed by fines and ultimately seizure of the property, but he said they always hope it doesn’t come to that.

“If the property owner is making progress we work with them,” he said.

If not, the fine starts at $1,000 and increases at the rate of $500 per day.

“That racks up to huge sums of money,” Tate said.

The planning commission has been working on tightening up the ordinance for close to a year, with four Planning Commission public hearings to hone the amendment to its final form.

Those hearings also addressed eight other amendments, seven of which were approved, with Commissioner Mac McDowell asking for a public hearing on one dealing with dead end road and joint residential driveway standards.

McDowell wanted further clarification on the definition of a “turnaround” which the ordinance stated was needed on any driveway or dead end road longer than 150 feet. The ordinance called for a “cul-de-sac” type turnaround, with a radius of 30 feet, or an equivalent turnaround area.

The ordinance also establishes road widths, in an effort to reduce the burden incurred by owners of rural land when they construct roads to serve larger parcels, and to reduce the amount of clearing and grading that is required for small developments, according to the ordinance.

That hearing will be held at 10:30 a.m. at the May 10 commissioners’ meeting.

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