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Pierce County finds 3,209 illegal structures

Post by David Wickert on May 3, 2010 at 3:53 pm with 18 Comments »
May 3, 2010 3:53 pm

Pierce County has identified more than 3,200 illegal garages and other structures under a controversial program that uses aerial photographs to spot buildings constructed without a permit.

Gordon Aleshire, assistant director of the county’s planning department, told a County Council committee Monday the program has prompted hundreds of property owners to seek amnesty for their illegal buildings. And it has generated more than $107,000 in revenue for the county as property owners seek building permits they should have obtained in the first place.

But council members remain critical of the program, which some local residents see as a Big Brother-style high-tech surveillance program.

“This has been a troubling program to a number of council members,” Chairman Roger Bush, R-Frederickson, said at a meting of the council’s Community Development Committee Monday.

The planning department launched its “building amnesty” program in October. Under that program, the county compares aerial photographs taken in 2005 and 2008 to identify structures built without a permit.

Property owners can avoid penalties by applying for amnesty and seeking the building permits and inspections they should have obtained when they built the structure.

According to the program’s latest report:

• The planning department has identified 3,209 structures without a permit so far this year. Nearly all of those were accessory buildings like garages or sheds. The department found 18 “primary structures” – houses or other significant buildings – built illegally.

• Through April, the department had accepted 525 amnesty applications. It also has received 201 building permit applications through the program.

• So far the amnesty program has generated $107,500 in revenue from permits. Aleshire said it’s on track to meet its $310,000 revenue target this year.

Planning department officials say the program is designed to ensure public safety, not make money. They say buildings that did not get a county inspection may be unsafe.

County officials cite tragedies like the 2001 collapse of a substandard deck that killed a Pacific Lutheran University student. And they say using aerial photographs is a cost-effective way to find illegal structures.

But some local residents say using aerial photographs is an invasion of privacy. And council members say resources devoted to the program could be better used elsewhere.

“The amnesty program is not a program the council would have implemented,” Councilman Terry Lee, R-Gig Harbor, said at Monday’s meeting.

Leave a comment Comments → 18
  1. maltz88 says:

    This is a bunch of crap. Hey Pierce County don’t try to spin it like you have our best interests at heart with this program, like trying to avoid the catastrophic collapse of a deck 9 years ago. How many permitted structures have collapsed in that span harming people?

    This isn’t about protecting the public from themselves, it’s about another revenue stream for the county, and that’s it!

  2. eflester says:

    The question of privacy is mildly interesting, but I doubt that it will survive legal testing. Many building depts. use aerial photography in this way, and if this is a new program for Pierce County, I’d say they are a little behind the times.

    The really disappointing thing about all this is that when one observes an obviously illegal building project, reports it to the building department, and sees absolutely nothing done.

    I know there will be cries and moans about bureaucracy, but the horror stories of unpermitted projects outweigh the inconvenience of compliance. As a firefighter, I’ve been exposed to extremely dangerous situations caused by this type of casual construction.

    There are reasonable building codes in Pierce County, and they are implemented for good reasons. You may put up a small shed, or do many other minor projects around your house without a permit. Visit their website for details. If you need a permit and inspection for your project, get it.

  3. I hope the planning department shared the information gathered with the auditors office. My hunch is they did not.

  4. surveyor1 says:

    The county probably would not have to resort to this if they hadn’t made the process of actually getting a permit so unbelievably painful in the first place. I have to wonder how many of the 3200 people actually had good intentions and went down to the county to apply, then simply gave up after having to wait for hours, even days, just to speak to someone only to find out the ridiculous hoops the county was going to make them jump through to get a permit.

  5. magnolia11 says:

    “Planning department officials say the program is designed to ensure public safety, not make money. They say buildings that did not get a county inspection may be unsafe.”
    – Brought to you by the new Department of ” Throw Me Out of Office”

  6. With what I have recently seen in newer construction that was built with permits and signed off by Pierce County – mainly framing in Attics – mis-cut ridges / hips – either wrong angle or too short leaving large gaps, it seems to me that if a person is capable of building a tree fort out of pallets and scrapwood, they’re qualified to build homes in Pierce County – no pride in craftsmanship and the county doesn’t care – get ‘em up and occupied asap so we can get our tax money !!!

  7. gallwapa says:

    I know someone who got a visit from PC over this – they threw it out when they saw that it was merely a wood storage shed.

  8. i really hope it didnt cost the tax payer more than the $107,000 the county has recovered to fund this arial surveilance adventure……

  9. the3rdpigshouse says:

    WOW!!! I’ll bet they will expend an equal effort trying to identify illegal immigrants in Pierce County – NOT!!!!!!!

  10. bifdak says:

    pierce county, and edgewood have ignored an illegal apartment building/drug house on west valley for years. a lot of folks do not wonder why the drugs house remained open for years and years. and they dont wonder why the city county closed thier eyes to all the “stuff” that has gone on there along with the dope. its about money. its about a local cartel. its about keeping things quiet.

  11. uratroll says:

    Permits for inflatable swimming pools, permits for the tarp covered carports that you can buy at Costco, permits for this, and permits for that. This is all about the M-O-N-E-Y, nothing more, nothing less. All under the guise of “safety”. When there is a $310,000 “revenue target”, what in the heck else could it be about? Money, money, money, and these people are creative experts at seperating you from yours. No legal way to do it? We’ll just make a law, or ordinance, to make it legal. Done. The bureaucracy of these departments makes it so difficult and so expensive that it is almost criminal. Why isn’t it? Laws and ordinances. If the process were privatized it would be many times more efficient, less BS, less bureaucracy, less arrogance, and would only be a fraction of the cost. It would be nice if the people in the building/planning department remebered that they work for the people that are at their counter, not the other way around. People might be happier to stand in a line where they’re appreciated as customers.

  12. summit98446 says:

    $107,000 for privacy. Scalia would think the County paid too much.

  13. eflester says:

    Why would anyone think that $107,000 in fees is a significant amount of money — significant enough to motivate Pierce County to enforce codes that (assuming the motive is financial) they otherwise wouldn’t enforce? How much is your house worth?

    Yes, PC has been for many years a place of scofflaw construction practices. Yes, modern construction practice is often cheap, quick, and substandard. Yes, there probably is some corruption. Let’s not move backward, but instead demand stricter code enforcement and the adoption of meaningful standards.

  14. This is actually a good thing. I attended PLU and was at the party where the aforementioned deck from the article collapsed. Guess what? When minimum standards are not enforced, the potential for these types of accidents to occur goes up. I also currently work in the building trade. I can tell you first hand that many home owners, and especially rental property owners are cheap and often only care about the aesthetic value of their property and have no concerns about safety whatsoever. I have seen many times where they overspend and then try to get the GC/laborers to do things that would not pass inspection but would save them money. Inspections instill a sense of responsibility in the builders and prevent things like decks being erected where cheap home/property owners decide to use 3″ deck screws instead of lag screws to attach a structure to the house on order to save a few bucks. These home/property owners often employ either inexperienced kids (the PLU deck was built by inexperienced and unsupervised college labor) or undocumented labor ( I have personally seen this on many sites). Get a permit if you want to get work done on your property. Like I said, I work in the building industry and while there may be certain aspects of the building codes that I don’t always agree with, the bottom line is that these regulations are ultimately good for the people who reside/work/occupy these structures. They are also good for the buyers who end up with these properties who buy/reside in them in good faith believing that they are safe structures.

  15. BigBlockChev says:

    I can understand the 18 actual structures, but sheds are a joke. We need to vote these people out of office that sic these bureaucrats on people just to get a few bucks. If you could actually get a permit for a woodshed for a few bucks and without having to hire a wetlands engineer, structural engineer, architect and do a soils/tree/wildlife report people would probably be glad to do so…

    The county should have said, gee, we only found 18 people that were openly flaunting the law but most people were in compliance.

    BTW, these aren’t ILLEGAL sheds. They are simply UNDOCUMENTED! The people that built them were just working hard trying to supporttheir families. This is a RACIST program against the rural people of the county! We need to hold a rally!

  16. seattle_sk8r says:

    If it weren’t so difficult to GET a permit, and if the cost of the permit was reasonable, and if permits were granted in a reasonable amount of time, people would be much more apt to get one. The process is broken and needs major overhaul.

    We built a house a few years back in PC. We found that it took us over half as long to get permits (from application to permit granted) as to actually build the house. As the General Contractor for the house, I spent about the same amount of time (wasted) at the permit office as I spent finding and hiring architects and subcontractors combined.

    My parents built a larger house in a different state and paid only about half as much for their permit (all parts of the permitting were included in one permit, one price). We paid (if I recall correctly) 13 or 14 different PC departments for separate permits, for everything from wetlands to insulation to final. I will say it again: the process is broken and needs major overhaul!

    Also, if I am correct, I believe any structure under 100 sq. ft. does not need a permit.

  17. RegisteringFool says:

    Anybody who thinks this is not a revenue generating ploy needs to have their head examined.

  18. qwert123 says:

    Please please – call/write the Pierce County Counsil. The waste of money invovled in this “project” is so much…the counsil works FOR YOU (if you live in PC). You can remain anonymous if you’d like, but let your voice be heard to someone who can help change things.
    Address: 930 Tacoma Ave. S.,
    Room 1046 (10th floor of the County-City Building)
    Tacoma, WA 98402 -2176
    Phone: (253) 798-7777
    FAX: (253) 798-7509
    Toll Free in WA: (800) 992-2456

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