Propane tank building permit granted, appealed and allowed

Another attempt to stop the installation of a 30,000-gallon propane storage tank on Orcas was rejected by the San Juan County Hearing Examiner.

Hearing Examiner Gary N. McLean released his findings on Nov. 13, stating that the Aeroview Property Owners Association’s appeal did not meet the burden of proof needed to establish that the decision by the county to issue a building permit was made in error.

“Instead, the Record includes a credible and preponderance of evidence as well as controlling legal authority, to support issuance of the challenged building permit,” McLean wrote in his summary about the hearing held on Aug. 28, 2019.

San Juan Island-based Inter-Island Propane originally applied for a conditional use permit to place the propane storage tank at 27 Seaview St. on May 12, 2017. Inter-Island Propane is owned by Donny Galt and Jimmie Lawson and it is being represented by Friday Harbor Attorney Carla Higginson.

The process of placing the tank has gone through a series of applications, approvals and appeals over the last 2.5 years.

The building permit appellants, represented by Friday Harbor Attorney Stephanie Johnson O’Day, stated that the proposed development violates two rules of the Aeroview Long Plat adopted in 1999 affecting that particular lot — no outdoor storage is allowed and any building on the property must have a residential appearance on the street side. The vacant lot of land is currently zoned as service and light industrial in the county’s comprehensive plan.

“The plat restriction was not addressed in the conditional use permit decision, and the conditional use permit authorized by superior court was not appealed,” stated Erika Shook in a staff report about the appeal dated Aug. 15, 2019.

The conditional use permit request was granted on May 31, 2017, was appealed by Seaview residents and first went before former San Juan County Hearing Examiner Sharon Rice on July 13. It was a contentious process from the start, and more than 30 letters were submitted to the examiner from residents in the neighborhood during the conditional use permit appeal. The letters cited concerns about increased traffic, a leak or a possible explosion.

Rice denied the permit on Oct. 2 after postponing her determination on Aug. 31 and requesting more information from Inter-Island Propane, county staff and local fire agencies.

Judge Alan R. Hancock of the Island County Superior Court overturned Rice’s decision on April 30, 2018, and approved the CUP. The county then issued the permit subject to conditions as was ordered by Handcock on May 10, 2018.

With the conditional use permit obtained, Inter-Island Propane submitted a building permit for a 945 square-foot slab and a 120-by-120 foot gravel parking and storage area on Aug. 16, 2018, and the county issued the permit on June 7, 2019.

According to an April 25, 2019, letter by Shook, the building permit issuance is contingent on the San Juan County Fire Marshal approving the fire operation permit application; a revision of the plan to set back the tank 50 feet from all four property lines; and having a hydrant capable of emitting 500 gallons permute for a length of no less than 60 minutes installed and tested.

Galt said in July 2017 that the company had looked for other locations to put the tank, but the only service and light industrial zone on Orcas starts on Mt. Baker Road and abuts residences. Any land located outside of the Eastsound Water Users Association system would not have the water capabilities to fight a fire should one occur.

Other businesses in the area include San Juan County Public Works and San Juan Propane, both of which have existing propane and fuel tanks on the properties.