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VIEWPOINT | Rebuilding Whidbey's waterfront homes endangered

May 20, 2013 · Updated 11:41 AM
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By Mac McDowell

An open house was recently held by the Department of Ecology for Island County’s new Shoreline Master Program Update. Considering the plan has new and larger waterfront setbacks for home construction I was curious and concerned what the plan would say about the hundreds of waterfront homes that had been legally constructed and met the setbacks at the time of construction but would now be non-conforming for setbacks once the plan is adopted.

Many of the historical waterfront lots are nowhere near the depth of the new setbacks. My concern is if there is a catastrophic event such as a fire or earthquake could the home owner rebuild if the home was damaged or destroyed. The answer is no, it can’t be rebuilt if the home is over 75 percent destroyed (minus foundation). Note: leaving out the foundation or lot cost just makes it that much more difficult to be under the 75 percent limit.

Unfortunately these unexpected events do occur. Just last month an Island Transit bus ran into a building I own. I surely am glad the building was not located on the water and that all concerned had insurance (no injuries, fortunately). However an event such as a runaway bus makes it clear that unexpected events can and do occur.

For those that would say just collect your insurance (if you have paid extra for code change protection), not so fast. First one would only receive cost for the home structure, not the lot that would become valueless and also I have recently learned (bus accident) if one does not rebuild your insurance may only reimburse a depreciated value even if your insurance policy has replacement value. Therefore out of the cost you may have had for buying the waterfront home you would lose 30 percent to 50 percent of your investment because the unusable, valueless lot is not insured. Note: a waterfront home typically has a high percent of its value in the land. If one cannot rebuild the home then one would only be paid the depreciated value of the home. Depending on the age of the home, one could expect a depreciation loss of 10 to 15 percent, or more. In summary, the insurance recovery on your home that can’t be rebuilt is now down to approximately 40 to 50 percent of your total home value.

During my tenure as county commissioner our board did not want to hammer the unfortunate family that had experienced a catastrophic loss and made sure if a family had legally built their home at some point in time they would be able to rebuild their home as long as it was not located any closer to the water than originally built.

I asked a Department of Ecology representative if the 75 percent criterion was required or had any other communities allowed the rebuilding if 100 percent had been destroyed. He answered that some communities had used 100 percent. I then asked could anything be changed at this point in the process. He said Ecology could change it based on public comments. (I did not get a very warm fuzzy feeling). However this is the purpose of my letter. If you feel the county should not kick or punish the unfortunate family that has their home destroyed over 75 percent please contact David Pater, WA Dept. of Ecology, 3190 160th Ave. S.E. Bellevue, WA 98008 (email David.Pater@ecy.wa.gov). Explain if a home is destroyed and is now non-conforming because of increased setbacks that home should be able to be rebuilt even if 100 percent is destroyed. Also contact the county commissioners because they also can demand the change. Comments required to Ecology, no later than Friday, May 24, at 5 p.m. Sooner to the commissioners.

Mac McDowell of Oak Harbor is a former District 2 Island County commissioner.

 

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