GEARHART — After meeting for more than five hours, the Gearhart City Council on Tuesday upheld more than $30,000 in penalties against Neacoxie Creek Barn owner Shannon Smith but agreed to cut the fine in half.
Smith appeared before the council to appeal the civil administrative fines levied by Building Official Jim Brien for renting out her barn without an occupancy permit.
“It’s not right,” Smith said after the decision was rendered. “It’s not fair.”
Councilors upheld Brien’s penalties, issued for use of the barn for weddings and special events throughout the summer on six separate occasions, each carrying a $5,000 penalty.
“All six of these violations, I personally visited the site,” Brien said. “In the beginning, I tried to work with Ms. Smith. I wanted her to make some money. She promised that if I didn’t close her down, she wouldn’t do it again. This has been going on for over four years.”
He said restrooms are required in public buildings, and regulated by the building official. The facility relies on portable toilets for guests.
“The code is very clear,” Brien said. “The whole thing is, she has not put toilets in there.”
He said the barn was a “disaster waiting to happen,” with construction flaws that could put guests a risk.
The lack of hot water for dishwashing and food preparation distressed Councilor Paulina Cockrum.
“It’s hard to understand, when human health and safety are at issue,” she said.
Smith’s ttorney, Dan Kearns, sought to persuade the council that “vindictiveness” against his client played a role in the repeated administrative penalties.
Kearns said Smith had no need of a certificate of occupancy to hold the types of events occurring at the barn.
Since the barn had been an event space in the past, Smith had no need to acquire a conditional use permit for future events.
He also argued Smith had been complying with the city’s requests, but consideration of her plans had not been undertaken in a timely manner.
Kearns said there were at least two other homes in Gearhart advertising themselves as event centers, yet the city had not presented them with violations. In addition, Gearhart’s lack of short-term rental rules provided no policies that would prohibit weddings or other parties at the barn.
In a lengthy review on behalf of Smith, consultant Gary Olmon of Architectural Alliance NW in Lake Oswego, said the barn was ready for occupancy and safe for use. He took Brien to task for failing to approve Smith’s plans. “Give her a building permit,” he said. “Let’s get her cash flowing.”
Brien’s credibility and professional reputation played a large part in the council’s decision to uphold the administrative penalties.
“I stand by my city official,” Councilor Kerry Smith said. “He is a professional. He is in this position, and that’s why he has my support.”
“Jim Brien gets plans approved in a most timely fashion,” Councilor Dan Jesse, a builder, said. “I respect him. Because of that, I am inclined to believe what he is telling us.”
Arguments from Kearns and input from the consultant failed to persuade councilors to drop the administrative penalties. The council voted unanimously to uphold Brien.
Councilors then voted to halve the penalties.
“I would like to see the barn work, but I believe blatant disregard needs to be not rewarded, but cost you something so you know this is no fooling around, this is big people business,” Councilor Kerry Smith said. “This is what we’re going to do to you.”
Mayor Dianne Widdop, Cockrum, Jesse and Smith voted to reduce the penalties to $15,000, while Sue Lorain voted against the reduction. Injunction hearing ahead
Smith is scheduled to go before Judge Cindee Matyas Dec. 31 in a separate legal proceeding involving Neacoxie Creek Barn. This stems from a decision by Gearhart Municipal Court Judge John Orr that the city failed to appropriately cite zoning code to specifically prohibit weddings and special events. The city is seeking an injunction to prevent future commercial use of the barn.