‘McMansion’ spurs talk of changes

More specific guidelines are needed to prevent another “McMansion” mishap, the Island County commissioners were told Wednesday.

Mark Preiss, manager of Ebey’s Reserve, referred to the notorious paperwork slip-up that led to a building permit being prematurely issued for a large-scale home in Ebey’s Landing Historical Reserve.

News of the 5,000-square-foot home caused alarm in Coupeville, where preservation of the rural heritage of the land is a high priority.

In the case, Ian Jefferds applied for a clearing and grading permit as well as a building permit for property on Wanamaker Road.

The Historic Review Committee, whose responsibility it is to judge historic compatibility while reviewing permits, approved the clearing and grading permit, but accidentally signed the paperwork for the building permit. The county approved the permit based in part on the erroneous recommendation.

One item on Preiss’s agenda is to offer HRC members more educational programs and establish the committee as a regulatory body.

“If you are going to appoint people to these positions you must empower them,” Preiss told the commissioners during a staff session.

A pre-application step is also being looked at for people building in “high integrity” reserve areas. The HRC would meet with an applicant to examine the request before people expend resources on design and hiring for construction. Preiss said such a meeting with the HRC is an option right now, but not a requirement.

“Projects can slip through the cracks,” he said, recommending the change.

Planning Director Jeff Tate said wording on the present forms is causing friction. One idea is to present applicants with a packet containing visual examples of construction that fits into a rural setting.

“We’re working on improving forms, we’ve assigned administrative staff to record meetings, we’re making changes in land use permits and our planning staff is more plugged in,” Tate said.

However, more support is needed from the county, Preiss said. At present, for complex projects such as interpreting code, a large packet might be placed on a committee member’s desk Monday and they’re required to give a report the following day.

“You can see how that might be challenging,” Preiss said.

Commissioners asked Preiss if he considered contracting to build a gate, or some physical structure to signify to people that they are in a national park.

“It was our intent,” he said.

Tate offered an idea to change the color of street signs in reserve areas.

The Trust Board will continue talks with commissioners in coming months to discuss such issues as establishing a demolition ordinance that better protects historic buildings and fine-tuning the existing process for better forms.

“We want to respect our right to build our dream house, but it must be done in a thoughtful way and we’re working on accountability,” Preiss said.

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