Despite a new policy, the Leavenworth County Commission learned Thursday that the road to bringing all non-complying lots to current code is likely to be a long one.
Despite a new policy, the Leavenworth County Commission learned Thursday that the road to bringing all non-complying lots to current code is likely to be a long one. The commission had approved a board order Sept. 27 that revised an earlier policy of the commission, establishing that properties created before 1998 that met size requirements would be entitled to a building permit regardless of whether they met other more specific regulations established by the county. And a new state law that the commissioners were briefed on at the same time requires that the county surveyor or a licensed surveyor named by the commission review any land conveyances prior to them being filed. That new rule could help cut down on the number of unbuildable lots being sold in the county without the owner’s knowledge as a result of boundary changes that weren’t put through the planning and zoning process. In the meantime, the county is still discovering problems with existing records. Jason Knetter told the commission Thursday he bought his current property with an existing home in Leavenworth County this year. When he came in for a building permit he planned to use for a shed, staff in the county’s planning office told him the lot was unbuildable. The lot was buildable at one time, according to County Planning and Zoning Director Jeff Joseph — in 2005, after it was originally platted and the owners applied for a building permit. “In 2007, the property lines were changed without going through the process, without replatting it,” he said. The changes threw what would become Knetter’s property and two others next to him out of compliance with county building codes. County Register of Deeds Stacy Driscoll, and Knetter’s surveyor Joe Herring, both said that the issue goes back partially to the county’s own policy shortcomings in the planning and zoning department before Joseph’s arrival as director. “I do know that from being here since 1999 that when properties were platted and they had to adjust lot lines for whatever reason, the county didn’t make people go in and replat, they allowed them to adjust the lot lines,” Driscoll said. Commission Chairman John Flower said Knetter’s issue was not unique in that regard. “This is just like the ones we see all the time,” he said. But that didn’t mean there was a good solution, Flower said. Approving Knetter’s building permit with a variance meant that the unbuildable condition would persist; if the house on the property should be destroyed or demolished, the owner, whether that is still Knetter or someone else, the land would have to be replatted before a building permit is issued. “It’s not going to go away,” Joseph said, unless the land is replatted. Flower estimated to replat the three non-compliant properties would be about $5,000. Herring said he did not think that replatting was the most equitable solution. “To me, it’s a hardship on the property owner,” he said. County Counselor David Van Parys presented three options — try to negotiate with the other two property owners to change the lot lines to the 2005 arrangement to avoid the replatting process; grant a partial variance for Knetter’s property; or grant a blanket amnesty or waiver for the property. None were a complete fix. “It’s purchaser could inherit the same problem,” Van Parys said. Commissioner Clyde Graeber introduced a motion to grant a waiver, which died for lack of a second. Flower instead moved to grant a one-time building permit for Knetter’s shed, which would force him to replat the property before selling or refinancing. The commission approved that motion. For the future, Flower said Driscoll’s office is looking through its parcel records to determine when and where these non-complying properties are. Herring suggested the commission ask that property owners come forward if their properties aren’t buildable. Flower said the problem is, as in Knetter’s case, that “most people don’t have a clue” if their property is out of compliance.