Council Votes to Continue Subsidies on Owner-Builder Permit Fees


County Communications Program Manager

On Tuesday, June 17, the San Juan County Council amended permit fees for Owner/Builder building permits designed to give a financial break to people who want to build modest-sized homes, but charging the full rate to owner-builders who build larger homes.

Under the revised fee schedule, owner-builders of homes of up to 1,500 square feet will pay only 20% of the rate that contractors pay for building permits and plan reviews. The percentage increases slightly with every 500 square feet of living space in the planned home; then jumps to the full rate for homes larger than 2,500 square feet. (See the chart at the end of this article).

During budget preparations last year, the Community Development and Planning Department (CDPD) suggested that the fee discounts for owner/builder projects be eliminated, noting that services being provided to owner builders were being subsidized by people who used contractors. But several members of the public protested — calling the fee breaks an affordable housing issue — and the Council asked the department to revise its proposal.

Today CDPD Director Ron Henrickson called the adoption of the new fee structure “a good compromise.” Previously there had been no size restriction on homes benefiting from owner-builder fee discounts. Henrickson said that owner builder permits for homes as large as 5,225 square feet had been issued in the past for a fraction of their full cost.

“The Council’s decision today helps guide the benefits of the program go toward the people the program was designed for and away from individuals who are building mansions,” he said.

Previously owner-builder fees were charged a flat rate of $250 for the first 1500 square feet of living area plus 25 cents for each additional square foot, plus approximately $175 for energy code review and inspections in addition to minor plumbing and mechanical code fees.

Henrickson said that the net effect of the new rates will be to reduce the permit cost slightly for smaller projects and increase them slightly for homes that are just under 2,500 square feet. He said he expects the increased revenue generated by eliminating the subsidy on larger owner-builder homes will cover much of the cost of subsidizing the reduced rates for the smaller homes.

The Council approved the new fee structure by a 4-1 vote. Council Member Rich Peterson voting no, saying he favored keeping the old owner-builder rate system. Council Member Kevin Ranker was excused before the vote so that he could attend a Washington State Association of Counties session.