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City code nails popular woodworker

Dave Hamlin, shown in August 2007, was told his woodworking projects violate Federal Way city code. - Mirror file photo
Dave Hamlin, shown in August 2007, was told his woodworking projects violate Federal Way city code.
— image credit: Mirror file photo

Dave Hamlin, a Federal Way man known for his handmade outdoor lawn furniture, is packing up his wood and his tools — and plans to move away.

Hamlin and his wife, Mary, don’t want to leave, but the City of Federal Way is forcing them to, they said.

Code compliance officers from the city recently notified Hamlin that his woodworking projects, which he has been doing for more than 13 years with a business license, violate numerous city codes.

Hamlin was told he must quit running his business outdoors or face fines. Without the income from their business, the Hamlins won’t be able to afford their mortgage and will be forced to move.

“I feel like we’re being run out of town on a rail and I think that’s so unfair,” Mary Hamlin said. “I just feel like this is really wrong to do this to someone who has given so much to the community... We have lived here for 40 years and we’ve raised our children here.”

Dave Hamlin has worked with wood on his property at 2922 SW 314th St. for nearly the entire 40 years he’s lived there. When he retired about 13 years ago, he got a business license from the city and began selling his handmade outdoor furniture from his home and at local charity events.

Neighbors know Hamlin well from driving past his Federal Way home, where the friendly gray-haired man working in the front yard is a frequent sight.

He builds benches, planters, arbors, love seats, end tables, chairs, picnic tables, ice coolers and just about any other piece of outdoor furniture a person could imagine.

And he does it all — or 90 percent at least — with recycled wood. Hamlin gets his wood from old fences, old wood floors, old signs, old furniture, old crates and a variety of other recycled woods. He lovingly pulls out the nails, saws off the ends and sands down the tarnished exterior, revealing shiny quality wood.

Even though using recycled wood is time-consuming and not much cheaper than buying wood, Hamlin said he likes the idea that he’s recycling.

Hamlin sells most of his furniture in cooperation with charities such as the Kiwanis Club, local churches, schools and youth sports organizations. The proceeds are split 50-50. He estimates in the past two years, he’s contributed nearly $20,000 to local charities.

But those local charities may soon be looking for another way to raise funds.

“If we’re not welcome in Federal Way and we can’t help Federal Way charities, we’ll go to some other city and set up and help their charities,” Hamlin said.

Many of Hamlin’s friends suspect the reason for the city’s sudden inquiry into his business is media coverage. Hamlin thinks it is more likely that new neighbors are complaining due to the noise.

“I just think we got some new people that won’t tolerate my noise like the old neighbors did,” he said. “The (city code) compliance people said that my saw makes too much noise and my sanding machine makes too much noise, and we’ve got to stop.”

Code compliance officers also told Hamlin he could not display his signs or items in the front lawn or store items on his property outside the garage, he said.

Lee Bailey, a City of Federal Way building official, said Hamlin’s home occupation license comes with strict rules.

“There’s some pretty stringent requirements that he has to maintain so as not to cause any grief with the neighbors — you know noise, pollution that sort of thing,” Bailey said.

People who run businesses from their homes cannot sell items from their house, post signs around their home or store inventory or equipment on their property, he said.

“The basics is that there can’t be any indication that there’s a business going on there,” Bailey said.

The reason for the strict codes is to maintain the quality of life in the neighborhood, Bailey said.

Businesses that work well under Federal Way’s home occupation license include Internet businesses, Amway and bookkeeping, Bailey said. Any business where most of the work is done from a home office is a good fit.

“It’s specifically made for businesses that don’t infringe on the neighbors’ right to quiet and clean air,” he said.

The city didn’t prohibit Hamlin from operating his business, Bailey said. However, Hamlin said it would be impossible to operate his kind of business without making noise.

The reason the city is suddenly approaching Hamlin about his code violations after all these years is because the city had just now been made aware of the business, and because neighbors complained, Bailey said.

“He could actually operate an illegal business for some time if we weren’t aware of it, but once we’re aware of it, we’re required to enforce our ordinances,” he said.

Because he’s operating a business, Hamlin is not allowed to work with his equipment outdoors on his property, Bailey said. If he were using his tools as a hobby, he wouldn’t be subject to the same strict codes.

“Typically if it was a hobby with him, we wouldn’t be involved,” Bailey said. “There may be a violation to the noise ordinance in the city, but that’s enforced by the police department. We wouldn’t get involved with it.”

City officials aren’t trying to shut down Hamlin’s business or run his family out of town, Bailey said. They’re just trying to do their jobs.

“We try to be as user-friendly as we can,” he said. “We’re not here to beat anybody up. We just want to make sure that when they stray outside of the lines they stray back, that’s all.”

Contact Margo Hoffman: mhoffman@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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