Othello council struggles with CBHA, mother-in-law apartments

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Charles H. Featherstone/Sun Tribune Othello City Council Member Maria Quezada during Monday’s regular council meeting.

OTHELLO — It was a busy night for members of the Othello City Council on Monday, even though they did little more than postpone consideration of several important issues to future meetings.

The council voted unanimously to table until its next meeting on May 6 proposed changes to city rules governing “accessory dwelling units” — so-called “mother-in-law apartments” carved out from existing homes — after it was discovered the current city ordinances will allow any “non-comforming” dwelling that was approved prior to March 1, 2016, to continue being used that way, so long as it is up to code.

“Somewhere along the line, we turned this thing wide open and allowed anybody to do anything they wanted to do,” said Dale Wyman, a private citizen who spoke against accessory dwelling units. “I’ve seen buildings you know don’t meet code and yet they’ve got addresses on them.”

Wyman told council members they should repeal that section of the Othello code “before anything goes any further.”

“You need to stop issuing (building) permits and deal with it from there,” he said.

Community Development Director Anne Henning told the council that as the city code stands, any building or apartment or structure “that was residential before March 1, 2016, can continue” to be a residence as long as it meets safety codes, even if that structure fails otherwise to conform to city requirements.

“We want to close these loopholes,” said Mayor Shawn Logan. “It’s not you’re either for it or against it, it’s far more complex than that.”

The council also voted to end a long-continued public hearing on an agreement with the Columbia Basin Health Association to finish work on Columbia Street in order to give time to craft a deal both sides can agree to.

“We are trying to get an agreement, but so far, we’re not getting there,” Henning said.

Instead of voting on a deal that CBHA had turned down, the council instead agreed on a proposal from City Attorney Kelly Konkright that representatives from the council and the CBHA board would meet to work out a deal.

“CBHA thinks this a good idea,” Konkright said.

However, the hospital has also request several thousand documents from the city, as is waiting for those before setting a date for the meeting, Konkright added.

Council member Maria Quezada, who is also a member of the CBHA board of directors, recused herself from the discussion.

CBHA was given a temporary occupancy permit with the knowledge that they would have to complete the road before given a permanent occupancy permit. The sewer project was finished in 2018, yet the road has not been built.

Fire code dictates that CBHA must have two access points. One of the those access points is onto 14th Avenue. The other is Columbia Street, which is currently gravel and isn’t up to the standards set by the city or fire code.

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