RV Park Developer Irked by 4-Year Delay

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June 12, 2008 by   - () Leave a Comment

This summer, Charlie Curry hopes, motorhomes and travel trailers will finally begin rolling off Interstate 5 into his new 800-space RV park north of Castle Rock, Wash.
Over the past four years, Curry said, he’s invested close to $5 million in the Toutle River RV Resort, which sits just off Exit 52 and sits in the shadow of Mt. St. Helens.
But, Curry said, the Cowlitz County Department of Building and Planning has delayed his project time and again, according to the Longview, Wash., Daily News.
“They’ve made it as difficult as they possibly can on me in almost every area,” he said.
Curry said the department has lost his documents and held up his permits. Department officials don’t return his calls. And, most recently, he said, the agency demanded that he install three additional fire hydrants – a costly proposition that comes more than two years after his initial fire plan was approved.
Critics have blasted the agency in recent years, accusing it of arbitrary decisions, needless delays and poor communication, and Curry said his problems show why the agency is so maligned.
The county and building industry officials say they’re working to resolve the problems. A Seattle consulting firm audited the department’s performance last year.
And, this week, Mike Wojtowicz, the department’s director, said his office will deploy new web-based permitting software, hire a new deputy director who will hear complaints and solve problems and move into new office space that will include a customer-friendly permit center.
Problems Snowball
Curry, meanwhile, said he’s faced problem after problem. Two years ago, for example, he applied for 16 septic permits, then waited – and waited. “We were calling almost daily for them,” he said. When he finally received the approvals, he said it became clear they’d been approved months before and had simply sat in the department.
He said he also waited more than a year and a half for permits to build a water storage tank. Through the process, he said, the department lost three complete sets of documents, amounting to about 200 pages. He said it took him just less than a month to build the tank after the permits finally were approved.
The latest dust-up stems from the county’s demand that Curry install three additional fire hydrants at the park.
In November 2005, Curry said, he brought his plans for the fire system to Cowlitz 2 Fire & Rescue, which contracts with the county to review commercial fire code compliance. The fire district approved the plans. But it became clear later that the plans hadn’t been properly vetted by the building and planning department and that they do not meet the county’s codes, said Dave Flemings, the county’s fire marshal.
To solve the problem, the building department has mandated that Curry install three additional fire hydrants on the property.
But Curry, who already has installed pipes and four fire hydrants based on the the plan approved by Cowlitz 2, said adding the hydrants would cost at least $150,000 and set back the park opening, depriving him of hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue.
Curry’s lawyers have told him he could sue if the county requires the additional hydrants, saying in a June 4 letter that attempts “to alter or condition their approval at this late date is almost certainly illegal and potentially subjects them to a massive damages claim.”
Flemings acknowledged this week that the original plans submitted in 2005 “were approved in error.”
“There was some confusion,” he said.
Still, Flemings said he was reluctant to blame Cowlitz 2. “That’s part of our responsibility to approve those permits,” he said.
Wojtowicz said Monday that Cowlitz Fire District 6, likely the first agency to respond to a fire at the park, will examine the current system. If officials there feel the hydrant locations are safe, he said, Curry would not have to put in additional hydrants.
The county said it plans to discuss the problem during a meeting soon.
If the problems persist, Curry said, he’s prepared to sue. He said he can’t give up, not after investing millions of dollars, including his life savings, in the project.

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