NCW — The decision maker.
Andrew Kottkamp is the person eight counties and 14 cities in Eastern Washington rely on to keep politics out of development decisions. Kottkamp, who recently ruled on the Leavenworth Adventure Park, acts as the hearing examiner for these jurisdictions.
Kottkamp is a land use, personal injury, estate planning, corporate law and adoptions, probate attorney with a private firm he helped co-found, according to his firm’s website.
His contracts differ with each agency, but he often gets paid based on the number of hearings he oversees per year. In Chelan County he received $56,550 in 2018, said Cathy Mulhall, Chelan County administrator.
In Whitman County he received between $4,000 and $4,500 in 2018 and only heard one case that year, said Alan Thomson, Whitman County planner.
Kottkamp’s role as hearing examiner depends on the laws of each jurisdiction. But the position means he is responsible for the land use and building permit decisions that impact those communities. In particular, some development decisions that can be controversial.
According to state law, a legislative body can choose to use a hearing examiner to review conditional use permits, variances, subdivisions, shoreline permits and many other types of decisions.
The purpose of a hearing examiner is to provide an impartial final decision on land use applications, said Lilith Vespier, city of Leavenworth development services manager. In the past, land use decisions used to be made by city councils or other elected bodies.
“And you can imagine in a small town that becomes pretty challenging, because you know people,” Vespier said.
The hearing examiner reviews applications based on the evidence provided to him, she said. It includes the information provided by a municipalities’ planners, public comments and anything brought during a public hearing.
Under state law certain land use permits require a public hearing, said Kirsten Larsen, Chelan County planning manager.
“That is one of his primary roles is not to be swayed,” Vespier said. The hearing examiner needs to weigh public opinion, but concerns needs to be based on facts. Arguments against a building proposal can’t be based on emotion or fear.
“And the city is weighing both sides,” she said. “We can be sued on either side. The applicants can say, ‘Hey, you allow this in your code and you’re going to deny me? Why? Where’s your facts?’”
In an email Thursday, Kottkamp said he does have the authority to mitigate for impacts from projects by following municipal codes and based on the facts gathered from public comments.
If people want to raise a complaint about a project they can discuss environmental impact concerns, Larsen said. Environmental impacts can be anything from traffic, to noise and cultural impacts.
If people are unsatisfied with a hearing examiner’s decision they can then appeal it to the county’s superior court, said David Kuhl, Chelan County Community Development director.
But, “It takes Uncle Hank out of the equation, who is on the city council,” Kuhl said. “It is kind of a nice way to do it.”
Correction: This story contained incorrect information. It is Lilith Vespier who is the city of Leavenworth's development services manager.