Hood River County has been peppered with complaints of various potential land use and building code violations committed by some of its residents, and those complaints have been piling up faster than the county can resolve them.
Last week during its regular meeting, the Hood River County Board of Commissioners approved a request by county staff to move forward with the creation of a code enforcement officer position in order to reduce this backlog, process complaints, and keep an eye out for other potential code infractions, which can include anything from expired permits to having too many rusting jalopies on your front lawn.
Hood River County Planning Director Mike Benedict explained that currently, the code violation docket is fueled “primarily by complaint” or when appraisers are out and about and happen to notice a potential infraction, which they then relay back to the county. However, Dave Meriwether, county administrator, explained that addressing code violations was never a primary focus of the county, and a position solely dedicated to processing these complaints had ever been created.
“We had not had anyone on staff that this was what they do,” he told commissioners. “It was always something that we’ve done sort of on the side that’s been done by someone that had another primary purpose of their job. And especially when there’s something unpleasant like this, frankly, you’re gonna concentrate on the other part of your job.”
Benedict referred to numerous code issues — including “a ton” of possible single family dwelling violations — he knew had been occurring in the county. He also singled out junk cars as something that will be a prime area of concern for whoever will fill the code enforcement officer position.
“Junk cars are going to be huge,” he said. “There’s a lot of people with quote, unquote, ‘collections’ in their front yards.”
Benedict added that there has also been a rash of wedding venue violations as of late, including one which was operating on an expired permit.
“We’ve had four major wedding venue violations. That took up a lot of time,” he told commissioners. “We got a barrage of calls from the governor’s office, from our state senator and representative, the state fire marshal got involved, held appeal hearings; I had three brides melting down at my counter because I closed down the wedding site.”
Commissioners chimed in that they were also aware of code offenses committed in the county. Commissioner Les Perkins mentioned that code violations were plentiful and highly visible in Hood River’s booming vacation rental business — so visible that Perkins said he’s noticed violations just by looking at homes on vacation rental websites.
“I can look on there in five minutes and find 20 [violations],” he said.
“Oh, a lot more than that,” Benedict replied.
Commissioner Maui Meyer said it appeared the county had “years of work ahead of them” just dealing with the complaints and potential violations on the current list.
Meriwether agreed and said whoever takes the job — which is supposed to start this summer — would likely start off by working through the backlog full-time and then transition into another role once the complaints and violations have been addressed.
“I can see in two or three years this is not a full-time position,” he said.
Commissioners decided to not have the enforcement officer actively patrolling the streets looking for violations, but to concentrate on the complaints at hand and occasionally look for other violations. Benedict stressed that county planning was less interested in penalties than they were in bringing residents into compliance with county codes.
“Our role of an enforcement person to me is always try bring somebody into compliance and if you can’t get them into compliance, then you take off the glove and work it through [County Counsel] Johnson Dunn and a hearings officer situation,” Benedict noted.
“Generally, we don’t go out and say, ‘Clean this up.’ We say, ‘We want six cars done in two weeks and another six cars done in two weeks,’ and make it reasonable for people who just don’t have the means to undo what they’ve done right away,” he explained. “As long as they work with us, we’ll work with them.”