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Code compliance under fire over Federal Way resident's vehicles
Federal Way's code compliance regulations are once again under fire.
Resident John Micciche owns several vehicles and a boat, all located on his property along Southwest Dash Point Road. City staff have issued multiple citations for the motor vehicles. Micciche has appealed, gone to court and even had his case dismissed several times. But now, Micciche will face a hearing examiner.
At the Sept. 1 city council meeting, the council and staff discussed the code violations.
The city's code compliance officers respond to citizens complaints, said Greg Fewins, community development services director. Staff receives about 600 complaints per year, he said.
When a violation is reported, officers work with the resident before issuing a citation, Fewins said. If attempts to reach compliance are not successful, the city will take abatement action, he said.
"We try to show patience and compassion, but we work in a business-like manner to achieve compliance," he said.
Micciche said he has tried to comply and is being harassed while his property rights are violated.
"The city just takes it upon themselves to harass whomever they choose," he said.
Micciche's problems began in April 2008. A neighbor complained about Micciche's boat and multiple parked vehicles. Compliance officers contacted Micciche.
According to a city code, any boat larger than 22 feet long and 9 feet high is not allowed on a resident's property. Additionally, another code states that all vehicles parked on the property must be running, licensed and parked in a legal driveway, which is subject to width regulations.
On June 3, 2008, Micciche was issued his first citation for his oversized boat — measuring 38 feet in length and 13.8 feet in height, according to the city — and multiple parked vehicles. Micciche moved his boat and cars, all of which are for sale. He paid $6,000 to have trees removed from his front yard, so as to allow more room in his gravel driveway for the vehicles. He gave away some automobiles.
Over the next seven months, Micciche received four more citations for the same violations. Fewins said Micciche's driveway was too wide and according to city code, the cars were still parked in Micciche's yard. Code officers told Micciche his boat would be in compliance if it were moved to a paved pad in the offset area of his front yard, he said. But the boat received a citation there as well.
On Sept. 26, Micciche appeared in the Federal Way Municipal Court to appeal his first citation. The judge dismissed the case, citing the city's failed ability to prove the dimensions of the boat. On Jan. 16, Micciche appeared in court again for his second, third and fourth citations. The fourth citation included a violation of the city's code pertaining to the boat, as well as a violation pertaining to Micciche's parked vehicles.
Again, the judge ruled in favor of Micciche, saying the city failed to prove the dimensions of Micciche's boat as they applied to the second and third citations. But in regards to the fourth citation, he ruled that the city successfully proved the size of Micciche's boat and that the boat violated the city code.
On July 24, Micciche again appeared in court for a fifth violation. This time, Micciche claimed city staff did not know how to properly operate the engineer's rule used to measure his boat from the neighbor's yard. His case was dismissed.
Fewins said staff used the same method of measuring the boat each time. The information sparked questions from the city council.
"Why on Earth are we going back and forth to court so many times?" council member Linda Kochmar asked.
Code compliance officers do not attend the court hearings unless they are able to testify in the case, Fewins said. It took some time for staff to figure out how to measure the boat in a way that would hold up in court.
Council members Jim Ferrell and Dini Duclos expressed a desire to solve the compliance issues without Micciche returning to court — and without the city threatening abatement of his property.
"I would hate to place somebody in a financial hardship," Duclos said. "There should be something we can come up with here."
Fewins said the city is ready to approach the issue from another angle. Instead of arguing the violations in court, the citations and evidence will be presented to a hearing examiner Sept. 11. The hearing examiner's ruling will serve as the final say in the case, said William J. Murphy, Micciche's attorney.
"If there is no ability to accurately measure the boat, how can a findings of fact be made?" Murphy asked.
If a findings of fact is made, and Micciche and Murphy feel it was made on false or unsubstantial evidence, they may choose to take the case further.
"If I have to spend every last dime I own, I'm going to fight them," Micciche said. "This is about my constitutional and federal rights."
Neither Micciche nor Murphy would comment on whether a lawsuit may follow if the hearing examiner does not rule in Micciche's favor.
"I can't reveal any discussions between me and a client," Murphy said.
Micciche is scheduled to appear in front of the hearing examiner at 2 p.m. Sept. 11 at City Hall.