Posted 6/14/16 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
The county commission isn’t quite as flexible as the city of Ray when dealing with the SkyWatch Inn and voted to give the developer a much shorter time frame to get the project moving.
The county revoked the project’s building permit in May, citing months of inactivity that amounted to site abandonment, unsafe conditions, and a failure on the part of the developer to comply with a request for complete plans.
The developer requested a partial appeal of the permit revocation, and the county considered the request at a meeting Tuesday last week.
SkyWatch had no objections to the revocation of the permit itself and agreed to go through the entire building permit process with the county and city to resume construction.
The county building department in its revocation required the company perform full site abatement by June 15, which would mean pulling out all existing structures and filling in the hole that sits on the side of U.S. 2. The company requested an appeal of only this action.
How much time?
A consultant with the company, John Seibert, was absent due to a death in the family and no other representatives from SkyWatch were available to attend.
The county had asked the City of Ray to provide input as to their issues with regard to the site.
City officials requested the developer get approval for a new building permit by Feb. 28 of next year and the company put in place financial security to cover any abatement costs if the project doesn’t move forwards.
“That seems pretty generous to me,” Development Services Director Katie Lima told the commission.
Ray City Attorney Bryan Van Grinsven told the commission the date was decided upon to give the developer plenty of time to find investors and resume construction.
“There’s no magic in that date,” Van Grinsven said.
Assistant State’s Attorney Karen Prout said the county had no authority to impose the payment of an abatement cost like the one the city requested.
This would need to go through a developer’s agreement as part of the city of Ray’s planning and zoning process.
The county issued a permit for the project originally in summer of 2014, with a completion date the following spring.
The company had a stop-work order placed upon the project the following fall when they began doing foundation work without proper approvals.
The company took corrective action and was approved to proceed by the following January.
SkyWatch accuses a lender of defrauding them, which led to the project stalling. They are currently in the process of finding a new lender.
In June 2015, after months of inactivity, the county performed an inspection of the site and determined the project was abandoned.
The county requested the developer submit new plans by January of this year.
The county building department determined what the company submitted was not adequate.
“It seems to me they just kind of threw something together to meet the deadline,” Lima said.
Considering the project’s history, Commissioner Barry Ramberg expressed concern over the developer’s lack of compliance with previous agreements.
“It seems to me they promised a whole lot and done nothing,” Ramberg said.
He asked what happens if the county gives them until the end of Feb. 2017 just to have nothing come of the project.
“Are we delaying the inevitable? Possibly,” said Ray Mayor Ken Munson.
He said the city commission wanted to give the company plenty of time, hoping the city can avoid having to pay for site abatement themselves and, in the best-case scenario, actually see the project completed.
The county commission discussed safety concerns with regard to the site. The site sits right next to a residential area, where families with children live. The fencing is falling down and the excavated area is collecting standing water, which is conducive to mosquito breeding.
The commission voted to give the developer until Oct. 1 to get a new building permit and to pump the water out as soon as possible.
If the developer fails to clear out the standing water, the county will perform the work and bill the developer.
Seibert said he would not be able to comment on the county or city commission’s requests until he received minutes of the meetings.