Teen takes stand for Christmas tree business

An aspiring lawyer, she gets county to reverse course in code dispute

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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Clark County says its not looking to play the Grinch this year for a 16-year-old girl running a Christmas tree lot to earn money for college.

It's a turnaround from earlier this week when the girl working the lot, Kaitlyn Metscher, discovered a note from Clark County code enforcement attached to the fence. Apparently the county wanted to speak with her about the seasonal business at Northeast 107th Avenue and Covington Road in Orchards.

It's the first year she's rented this residential lot to sell Douglas, grand and noble firs, but her family has run a tree lot every year since she was 2 years old.

"We haven't done it on this lot before, but we did right across the street," Metscher said. "The difference is over there is zoned commercial."

Metscher called the county, but they didn't give her much information other than telling her the land wasn't zoned for Christmas tree sales. She decided to double-check the county's work and refer to state and county code.

Metscher is running the lot because she wants to save up some cash for college. Her plan is to one day be a lawyer. She's considering a path in constitutional civil rights or perhaps becoming a defense attorney. She's not looking toward a career in land-use law, but her part-time job at a local law firm has taught her to consult the legal statutes when you're unsure of the rules.

"I didn't see how I had violated the law, so I kept going here," Metscher said. "I decided if they serve me, then I would see what exactly it was I violated."

Help from commissioner

County Commissioner Marc Boldt heard of the situation the next day. Code enforcement responds to a site if they receive a complaint, but Boldt said the county's intent isn't to limit agricultural sales, a category trees clearly fall into.

Boldt requested that the staff craft an emergency ordinance to fix the matter as, he said, it is something that should be allowed under county code.

"The point of this is to fix it as it's obvious Christmas trees would blend into this eventually," Boldt said. "So we should fix it now."

Commissioners are expected to discuss a change to the code on Tuesday.

The county has been working to make agricultural use less onerous on all county land. Earlier this year the county reworked land use codes to allow agricultural stands and markets across most zones.

Marty Snell, the county's director of community development, said as the code stands now, holiday related lots on residential land require a temporary-use permit. It's likely a code change will remove that requirement.

"What the board is going to be looking at is amending the requirement that seasonal sales in December would require a temporary use permit," Snell said. "In nonresidential you don't need a permit, you can just do it. (The county commissioners) will look at an emergency ordinance to provide for that on residential property as well."

Metscher said she's happy she can keep operating the lot and saving for college, but she was never really too bothered by the county notice.

"I thought it was pretty fun," she said. "I was applying what I had learned, and that was really great."

Metscher says the lot is an example of her family "teaching her how to fish." She'll get the profits from the sales this year because she's the one leading the work crews.

"My family has always said they can't afford to send me to college," Metscher said. "But they did say they could teach me the skills to afford it."

Erik Hidle: 360-735-4547; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov;erik.hidle@columbian.com.