Vivien Burnett, an outspoken critic of property rights groups and a board member of the Friends of the San Juans, is working to come into compliance with land use regulations for her San Juan Island property.
Sixteen years ago she added a 400-square-foot addition onto her permitted 1,000-square-foot studio. She did not have any permits for the addition which included adding a sink and electrical wiring.
Also in 1996 she began renting out the two-story house which was also on her 9.5 acre property. For the first two years, she rented out the house for the summers only. She lived in the studio, which included a bathroom, and used a hotplate for cooking.
She expanded the house rental to year-round and lived in the studio. Renting out the house wasn't illegal, having two residences on her property was.
In 2004, she remodeled the 400-square-foot addition - again without permits - and had a full kitchen installed.
Her 9.5 acre property with a land use classification of R-5 can have one residence on it. And it could have an Accessory Dwelling Unit if an ADU permit was obtained.
The ADU must be not more than 100 feet from the main residence, not more than 1,000 square feet in size, must share the same water and septic system, and use the same driveway.
R-5 means the property can have one residence on five acres. In order to have two residential units, Burnett would need to have two 5-acre parcels.
Burnett has been attempting to purchase a half-acre from a neighbor to increase her property to 10 acres. She said she would then divide it so she would have two 5-acre parcels.
She hasn't been able to purchase the additional half acre. One neighbor owns 15 acres (three 5-acre parcels) and doesn't want to sell off a half acre. A sale from a neighbor with a 10.5 acre parcel zoned R-10 fell through due to several reasons. She said she is still working on a purchase as the solution to her problem.
Asked why she didn't wait until she had the additional acreage before she made a second residence on her property, she said she wasn't aware it was illegal to do so. During the interview she plead ignorance of the permit and code requirements several times. She did design the main house and was involved during the construction process.
Burnett has written letters to newspapers regarding property rights groups. One about the Critical Areas Ordinance said:
They all have at least one thing in common: They oppose government spending that prohibits what they view as their “personal freedom” – which means they want permission to build what they want, where they want, how they want, when they want -- without regard of their neighbors or their environment.
Asked in an interview Wednesday, June 27, 2012 if it wasn't hypocritical to criticize others while she herself was violating county code, she said, "I have been proactive in trying to conform to the code. I've been trying to make them legal...I don't like the use of the word hypocrite when someone is being proactive."
Burnett doesn't have the option of applying for an Accessory Dwelling Unit permit. The county isues two after-the-fact ones each year. ADUs must be no more than 100-feet from the main residence, though in some cases up to 150 feet is allowed. Burnett's studio is 240 feet away from the main house.
To solve her compliance issues needs to do two things, obtain an after-the-fact building permit for the 400-square-foot addition and remove the kitchen.
After-the-fact permits cost twice the amount of permits purchased prior to construction.
She has applied for the permit and the kitchen is being removed.
During the interview, Burnett repeatedly said she has been proactive -by attempting to purchase a half acre - over the years. She says, she also has not harmed the environment and these two reasons separate her from others who have been in the news this year for building without permits and violating land-use codes.
"I do believe in complying with the law," Burnett said. "My actions match with my beliefs."
She doesn't know if she has caused harm to the Friends of the San Juans. She hasn't considered resigning and hasn't been asked to resign from the FOSJ board.
The next meeting of the FOSJ board is in August.
"We expect the county to enforce the rules," said Executive Director of the Friends of the San Juans Stephanie Buffum. "We expect the citizens of San Juan County to comply with the rules."