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Island County officials say real estate agents responsible for proper noise disclosure

Island County Planning Director David Wechner speaks to the commissioners about jet noise disclosures. - Janis Reid/Whidbey News-Times
Island County Planning Director David Wechner speaks to the commissioners about jet noise disclosures.
— image credit: Janis Reid/Whidbey News-Times

Planning Director David Wechner told the Island County Board of Commissioners Wednesday that some real estate agents are not giving out both of the county’s required noise disclosure statements.

Disclosure of jet noise levels during the sale of a home has become a point of debate in the wake of a Central Whidbey group’s lawsuit against the Navy in July over increased jet noise at Outlying Field Coupeville.

After some residents alleged they weren’t properly notified of the jet noise prior to purchasing their homes, Island County commissioners directed Wechner to prepare an analysis of the county’s two existing noise disclosure statements.

The first disclosure appeared in county code Chapter 9, “Public Peace, Safety and Morals,” in 1992. This four-paragraph noise disclosure specifies that touch-and-go operations are performed at “tactical military jet aircraft facilities” and are “scheduled during day and night periods.”

“Additionally,” the disclosure states, “the noise generated by a single flyover of a military jet may exceed the average noise level depicted by the airport noise zones and may exceed 100 decibels.”

The second disclosure appeared a year later in the county’s building code in the “Noise Reduction Ordinance.”

That disclosure is only a few sentences and is intended for new building projects only, according to Wechner.

Currently, local real estate agents give prospective home buyers a version of the shorter building code disclosure that was copy written by the Multiple Listing Service.

Both chapters are currently in effect, contain disclosures for prospective owners or lessees, and are intended for different purposes, Wechner said.

Where the maps overlap, buyers are to receive and sign both disclosure statements.

The county is able to enforce the building code disclosure usage because permits are required.

However, in the case of a sale of an existing home, the county has no real authority to enforce what disclosures real estate agents use.

“As the county does not participate in the offer or actual sale, lease or transfer of land, it is the responsibility of property owners or their agents to provide the disclosures,” Wechner said in his report to the commissioners.

A limitation of liability statement contained in both places states the obligation to comply with the provisions of these chapters lies with the property owner, builder and their agents.

The county does not have the ability to enforce the disclosure statement requirements when it comes to real estate transactions.

When asked if local real estate agents are using an incorrect disclosure, Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said she agrees that it was not the county’s role to enforce which noise disclosure is used.

Price Johnson said she would consider revisiting the noise disclosure issue after the Navy’s Environmental Impact Statement on the Growler is completed in 2016.

However, Price Johnson said she remains skeptical that Island County would ever have the resources needed to enforce the ordinance.

“We’re very challenged in our resources to enforce that,” she said.

Commissioner Jill Johnson said when people buy a home near an airfield they shouldn’t be surprised by the aircraft noise.

Johnson said she believes that it’s a homebuyer’s responsibility to research the area.

“If you buy a house near a train track, you can expect a train to go by,” Johnson said. “I am unclear on how so many people were confused. Nobody forced them to live here.”

“The county doesn’t regulate choice.”

Jason Joiner, government affairs director for the Whidbey Island Association of Realtors, has previously said that the island’s real estate community would be in favor of a “more informational” disclosure, but he could not be reached for comment on Wechner’s report.

Michael Monson, president of Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, the group that filed a federal lawsuit against the Navy, accused the county of throwing local Realtors “under the bus,” and failing to take responsibility for not properly informing residents about jet noise.

“The county says they told everyone what to do, and that they have no control over what forms are given to homebuyers,” Monson said.

“The Realtors claim that homeowners were told … we now know this isn’t true.”

Navy representatives have said that the new EA-18G Growler operates at a similar noise level to its predecessor the EA-6B Prowler, but conceded that touch-and-go operations exceeded estimates in recent years.

 

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