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City manager not impressed with new S'side homes

Sunnyside City Manager Bob Stockwell isn't impressed with the building practices of developer Mel Aho. During last night's Sunnyside City Council meeting, Stockwell berated Aho Construction, which is building the new homes in the Sunnyside Harvest Village development.

The confrontation of sorts stemmed from what occurred during a public hearing regarding the city amending a section of the Sunnyside Municipal Code dealing with single-family residential units.

Attorney David Ward of the Vancouver law firm Landerholm, Memovich, Lansverk and Whiteside told Council that he was speaking on behalf of his client, Aho Construction.

"The regulations that are proposed, particularly subsection g (dealing with wall construction) hurt my client," said Ward.

Ward asked Council for some flexibility with the wall construction issue. He said Aho Construction uses a one-pour foundation in building its homes. Ward added Aho has built houses across the state utilizing the one-pour method. Ward said the problem Aho would have with the wall construction requirements comes from a section that states the wood sill shall be level with the foundation. Ward said this would be extremely difficult to accomplish using the one-pour method. He said that Aho would have a difficult time building affordable homes by implementing this practice.

"It (one pour method) is one of the reasons Aho is able to build an affordable house," said Ward.

Councilman Bruce Ricks, though, said he was concerned with the one-pour method utilized by Aho. He said as a homeowner he would have issues with a foundation that is not level. Ward countered that there is an acceptable standard when dealing with the wood sill not being level, which is about one inch above the foundation. Ward's claims were backed up by an engineer that was brought to the meeting on behalf of Aho Construction.

Ricks, though, said he felt Aho Construction should try to meet or exceed the requirements in the construction of the homes they are building.

"Now is the time to meet (the) standards," said Ricks.

Aho then spoke, saying he has been utilizing the one-pour system for more than 30 years with much success. Aho contended the foundation of the house is still structurally sound, even if sections of the foundation are not level. Aho said by not pouring as much concrete for the foundation, he is saving the homeowners money. He also contended the extra concrete is not needed.

"Nobody is benefiting by it," said Aho.

Aho said he felt what the city is trying to do with his houses stems from a personal grievance involving city building inspector Mike Storms. Aho said Sunnyside has been one of the more difficult communities he has had to work with in developing housing. Aho said Storms has been unfair in his evaluation of the homes.

Stockwell, though, rushed to the defense of his building inspector.

"Mr. Aho's attack against the building inspector is totally without grounds," said Stockwell.

Stockwell said he has visited other Aho construction sites in Pasco and Moxee and has seen problems with the homes being built in those communities, particularly in Pasco. Stockwell said the Moxee homes are the only ones being built to standards.

"We continue to see the same errors in construction," said Stockwell.

Stockwell pointed out numerous faults with the construction of the Sunnyside homes. He said there are problems with the walls of the homes and other issues, such as the developer not caulking the windows around the homes. Stockwell contended all that is holding the homes up at Harvest Village is the siding on the homes. Stockwell cited other concerns, such as how the flooring of the homes has been installed inadequately.

"We are being asked to accept in my mind what is an inferior product," said Stockwell. "We want for our citizens homes that are well built."

Stockwell said the problems with the Harvest Village homes all start with the foundation not being level. Stockwell said he feels Sunnyside residents wouldn't mind spending another couple thousand of dollars for quality houses.

Stockwell also said that the homes now being built and sold are not being built to the same standards as the model homes that were first constructed.

Storms addressed the Council, saying the problems with Aho stem from the developer always wanting to do less than the required regulations.

"They always just want to swing the other way," said Storms.

The only concession the Council granted prior to approving the new single-family residential building requirements was striking the two-car garage requirement. A copy of the full requirements for new single-family residential standards, complete with manufactured home requirements, is available at Sunnyside City Hall.

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