SAN JUAN COUNTY, WA. June 29, 2023 – San Juan County’s Department of Community Development shares next steps as the result of organizational change and feedback from a series of community meetings.
County officials including councilmembers, County Manager Mike Thomas, and other County staff held a series of public meetings on San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez Islands. Those invested in the construction industry or with experience working with DCD were welcomed to ask questions, voice concerns, and share their perspectives on working with the department. The San Juan Island meeting May 16, Orcas Island meeting on June 13, and Lopez Island meeting on June 28 all contributed to the development of the County’s next steps.
During the public meetings on all three islands, County staff took note of the frustrations, proposed solutions, and perspectives offered by the public. The recurring issues include but are not limited to:
- Customer service: Frustration was expressed about the lack of clear and helpful customer service the public receives from the department. Responses have been perceived as unhelpful or confusing.
- Code enforcement: Attendees expressed a desire for increased code enforcement. Unpermitted and unsafe buildings and other structures such as docks, are of concern for many community members.
- Online applications: Attendees suggested moving all applications to an online platform. As it stands, there are a variety of formats and locations where forms, applications, and permits can be found including the County website, the SmartGov portal, and at the DCD offices.
- Code interpretation: Attendees expressed concern and frustration regarding the department’s inconsistent or changing interpretation of land use and building codes.
- Permit Review Times: Attendees voiced their frustration with the long wait times for permits and wish to have published current review times.
- Pre-Application Conferences: Attendees advocated for the re-installment of pre-application conferences which provide them with relevant project information and certainty about process.
- Professional Reports: Attendees expressed frustration over the rejection of professionally prepared disciplinary reports (wetlands, stormwater, engineering) required for certain types of permits.
County’s Next Steps
The next steps will guide the department as it continues to move forward in addressing issues identified through the recent community meetings and in moving the department forward. Items currently being worked on include:
- Permanent Director Recruitment: The County is working with a human resource consultancy to recruit a new director. Interim Director Norm Gollub is currently providing day-to-day management of the department.
- Building Permit Review: The County has hired Townzen & Associates to assist with review of building plans. This provides additional review capacity for staff and should help shorten review times.
- Environmental Review: The County has hired Canyon Environmental to review critical area reports which should help reduce the months long land use permit review times.
- Department Website: Staff is actively reorganizing the DCD website to improve the user experience and to streamline the information gathering and application processes.
- Customer Service Training: Staff are completing customer service training. The expectation is to return calls within a week.
- SmartGov: Staff is expanding the SmartGov system to include all permits. This means users will have one portal through which they can access and track all their applications and permits.
- New Building Codes: Staff is preparing for implementation of new building codes from Washington State when they become effective in October.
The department is committed to providing updates on how it is progressing toward addressing the concerns voiced at the recent community meetings.
About San Juan County’s Department of Community Development
San Juan County’s Department of Community Development is responsible for building permits and inspections, code enforcement, land use designations, long range planning, and more. The department’s main office is located at 135 Rhone Street, Friday Harbor, WA 98250. For more information about San Juan County’s Department of Community Development, visit www.sanjuanco.com/1778/Community-Development.