The Key Peninsula has its fair share of junk cars and other nuisances, and Pierce County officials say most county cleanup actions of zoning violations are a result of citizen complaints.
Two cleanup actions taken by the county last spring were initiated after citizen complaints, most of which go to the Pierce County Land Use office that deals with zoning, wetlands, shoreline, and sign code ordinances. Some zoning violations are reported by sheriff and state patrol officers.
Hulk haulers, tow trucks, and commercial dumpsters were hired by Pierce County to remove vehicles and solid waste from a Glen Cove property on April 27. According to Craig Swanson from the Pierce County Public Works and Utilities code enforcement department, the county was exercising a warrant of abatement, or cleanup, as a result of a court order. Swanson was involved with the case for only eight months but said the case had been ongoing for years and involved a number of appeals and regular monthly inspections of the property for compliance.
According to Yvonne Reed, county code enforcement supervisor, the county was obligated to do the cleanup once Public Works received an Executive Order to go ahead with the warrant of abatement. The county hired two private contractors for the work, one for vehicle removal and one for solid waste such as chain link fencing. Reed said that once the county determines the costs for the cleanup, the scrap may offset the cost of the removal. If the scrap value exceeds the county costs, that money will go to the property owner, Rick Sorrels.
On May 6, the county code enforcement officers were again involved in a junk car removal action near 78th Street and Wright-Bliss Road. Reed said this property had a large volume of cars that needed an inventory. Since Reed’s department has experts in the junk vehicle area, they were called in to assist. State troopers, county sheriff officers and health department officials worked as partners to enforce a search warrant for an apparent illegal wrecking yard operation on property owned by James and Travis Mackmer.
According to County Code Enforcement Officer Mark Luppino, the search warrant became necessary when the property owners would not allow law enforcement officials access to perform their investigations. In an aerial survey, Luppino determined evidence of a possible illegal wrecking yard business.
Many armed law enforcement personnel assisted with this action. State Trooper Bill Ashcraft explained that, even though the investigation was for an illegal wrecking yard, a “lot of times a different activity turns up. Five acres is a lot of ground to cover. (Washington State Patrol and armed law officers) make sure the property is clear before sending in county health code enforcement (people). We didn’t expect problems but we did one a year or so ago and were shot at.”
“Everybody got in safely and out safely,” Luppino said, crediting the agencies’ cooperation. “We’d loved to have had voluntary compliance but that wasn’t happening.”
Both cases are overseen by Luppino’s county code enforcement office. He has asked the prosecutor’s office to file charges against the Mackmer property for R-10 zone noncompliance because of “utilizing a parcel of land as a storage facility; and for utilizing the land for motor vehicle repair and sale of vehicles.” Other charges include allowing people to reside in recreational vehicles on the property without an RV park license and using the property for a towing company business.
Luppino affirms that the Mackmer property action was more intense than the abatement cleanup of the Sorrels property. It is a long process for the county to step in and do abatement cleanup. “We’d like people to do it voluntarily,” Luppino said, “but people resist, so the process goes to a judicial decision.”
The goal of county code department is to solve problems. “All zones allow certain amount of activity,” Luppino said. Decisions about land use and commercial activity are dependent on specifics. Like whether the activity is exclusively indoors with no outside involvement, or whether a vehicle is disassembled for the benefit of the property owner, or for sale of parts. If parts are sold or other vehicles are being built, then wrecking yard laws apply.
“If the activity is lawful, go through the permit process,” he said. “Ultimately what we want is to see resolution.”
Pierce County has developed programs that support the efforts of property owners who are doing their own cleanup. County officials encourage property owners to make use of resource programs like the Litter Credit program, Pierce County Responds and the Community Assistance and Public Education (CAPE) Program.
“The CAPE program tries to organize and encourage communities to do a community cleanup by first having a community meeting where resources and assistance that are available to them are explained,” said Code Enforcement Supervisor Reed. “We are only able to do about six CAPE projects a year because communities don’t like to do community cleanups in inclement weather so we are limited to the fair weather months.”
CAPE projects are scheduled for this summer in Horse Shoe Lake Estates and Lake of the Woods.
The online complaint application can be found at: www.co.pierce.wa.us. Click on Planning and Land Services and code enforcement.
To contact Pierce County Responds call 798-INFO or email email@example.com. If a community is interested in a CAPE project, call Yvonne Reed at 798-4122.