Appeal Denied on Manchester Mudslide

Kitsap County hearing examiner Mark Hurdelbrink has denied the appeal of a stop-work order placed on Jim and Sharon Stritzel during their construction of a new home on a Manchester hillside.
The emergency order was enacted Nov. 22, 2006, after a massive mudslide from the Stritzel’s property threatened neighbors’ homes downhill.

A story about the mudslide, along with a video taken by county employees ran on this blog April 19.

Here’s what the hearing examiner had to say.

Jim Stritzel testified before the hearing examiner March 22, asserting that the mudslide had been caused by an illegally place storm drain that was the responsibility of the county. He and his attorney Steve Dixon, said the county had no legal right to impose the stop-work order, which requires him to obtain a site development permit before further work can proceed.
The county is holding the Stritzels responsible for the cost of emergency response to the slide, which Stritzel has also challenged.
But the hearing examiner, issuing his ruling May 29, sided with county building official Mike Barth, who said at the March 22 hearing that the mudslide came from fill dirt brought onto the site without a permit. At the hearing, Barth showed a video of the mudslide taken by county employees.
In his ruling, Hurdelbrink upheld the stop-work order, citing the International Residential Code, Section 105.6, which allows for the suspension or revocation of a permit that was issued “in error or on the basis of incorrect information.”
Hurdelbrink also determined from the testimony of Barth and Kitsap County engineer technician Steve Abernathy that the soil involved in the mudslide came from imported fill dirt and not dirt excavated from the construction site, as Stritzel contends.
Hurdelbrink did not rule on Stritzel’s assertion that the storm drain should be rerouted by the county, saying this hearing was limited to the stop-work order. He also did not rule on the issue of who should pick up the tab for emergency cleanup of the mud and protection of the neighboring homes.
Stritzel has said there is no legal ground for the county to require him to restore the site to its previous condition. Hurdelbrink said, in his ruling, that if Stritzel seeks and obtains the required site development permit, restoration of the site becomes a non-issue. If he does not get the permit to finish construction, however, he will be required to put the property back to its preconstruction state.
Stritzel offered no comment on the denial of his appeal. Dixon said he and his client were “disappointed” with the ruling and were looking into further legal options.
“I think the judge (hearing examiner) made a good effort in his opinion,” Dixon said. “He made a very detailed decision, but we think he was incorrect on the law.”
Dixon said he and his client may pursue separate legal action challenging whether “the county has the right to maintain a storm drain on my client’s property without an easement.”
As to who will pay for the emergency clean-up, Dixon said that insurance companies representing the Stritzels, the neighbors and the Stritzels’ contractor are currently negotiating the issue. He added that litigation against the Stritzels or the county may come out of negotiations, but that no suits have been filed yet.

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