O’ville court battle winds down

Keith Cox/StonyPixDepsite a positive Superior Court ruling this month, Oysterville Sea Farms remains in legal limbo when it comes to some business activities beyond oysters.

SOUTH BEND — Pacific County will not have the opportunity to appeal a September 2015 District Court decision that was largely favorable to oyster-grower Dan Driscoll.

Since summer 2014, Driscoll has been engaged in a legal dispute with county authorities about what business activities should be allowed at Oysterville Sea Farms, his historic Oysterville cannery. While Driscoll maintains that a long-standing “grandfathering” agreement gives him the right to operate a small seafood and souvenir shop on the site, the county Department of Community Development alleged that Driscoll over-stepped his grandfathering agreement, and violated zoning policies intended to protect the surrounding environment.

When the DCD cited Driscoll for violations of county policies in June 2014, he asked for a court hearing, in hopes that a judge could provide some clarity about how county codes, policies and ordinances applied to his property. The September 2015 ruling, from District Court Judge Doug Goelz found Driscoll guilty of some elements of the infraction, but said that Driscoll did have the right to operate his business — with certain limitations.

Though County Prosecutor Mark McClain initially said that he saw the decision as a victory for the county, the county in November filed an appeal. In a legal brief, Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Eric Weston argued that Goelz’s decision wasn’t valid, asserting that under Washington law only Superior Court judges have the authority to make land-use decisions.

“If this decision by the South District Court is allowed to stand, it impermissibly short-circuits the land-use process,” Weston wrote. “The South District Court’s mishandling of a quasi-criminal case … instead of as a [land-use case] appeal has created a quagmire of issues.” In response, Driscoll’s attorney, Ben Cushman, filed a motion to dismiss the appeal.

On Jan. 13, visiting Superior Court Judge William Faubion granted Cushman’s motion to dismiss the appeal. In a very brief court document, Faubion said the county had “no basis to appeal.”

“As I understand it, Goelz’s decision has been upheld by the dismissal. It just shows me Pacific County had a fundamental misunderstanding of its own rules and regulations,” Driscoll said in a phone interview last week.

Driscoll said that while the dismissal is good news for him, he still can’t operate his business the way he’d like to, because a “stop work order” is still active, and the DCD still has not granted his request for a license that he needs to legally operate a food-related establishment.

“At this point, it doesn’t mean anything,” Driscoll said. “What any business needs to survive is stability and predictability. What I am looking for is a reasonable voice in the county government to work with.”

In a Jan. 26 phone interview, McClain said the District Court ruling did not obligate the county to issue the food permit to Driscoll. County officials say they don’t have to allow Driscoll to sell hot foods because his business is currently in a zone that doesn’t permit that type of activity.

“We’re saying ‘Look, I’m sorry, the District Court ruling is only related to whether or not you violated the law,’” McClain said. He explained that the county is currently evaluating its policies related to development and use of shoreline areas.

“How [OSF] will operate is a question that will be answered by the Shoreline Master Program, future zoning and the State Department of Ecology,” McClain said.

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