Mentor wins day in court

Businessman Joe Mentor has won the first round in the battle over his work on the old Maria’s Taco Shop restaurant on Bay Street.

Last week, the Port Orchard Municipal Court struck down two tickets the city issued to Mentor for allegedly violating shoreline and stormwater regulations. The allegations stem from remodeling and construction work Mentor did on the Taco Shop site — work that included dumping several loads of gravel into nearby Ross Creek.

The court dismissed the two tickets — the first outright and the second, which alleged shoreline violations, after a two-day hearing.

The court found that Mentor had done nothing wrong in back-filling portions of Ross Creek. Historically, the court said, the land mass that supports the Taco Shop — now a local Mexican restaurant chain outlet — used to be much larger. Erosion over the years brought the creek bank perilously close to the restaurant’s outside deck and Mentor was well within his rights to protect it.

Because Mentor was simply replacing historic fill, the court found, he didn’t need a permit to dump the rock and the city was out of line to write him a ticket for it.

City officials were not pleased with the ruling.

“This sort of situation really shouldn’t be going to Municipal Court,” said city planner Rob Wenman. “It’s very complicated. It should be going to Superior Court.”

According to court officials, because the citation written was akin to a traffic ticket, the matter did indeed belong in Municipal Court. However, city code enforcement officer Kathy Woodside, who was floored by the court’s decision, pointed out that the Municipal Court does not have a lot of background dealing with land-use issues.

Both Woodside and Wenman belive the ruling was a matter of misunderstanding between the city and the court — they both said Mentor had no business dumping rock into a salmon stream, permit or no permit.

“If he’d applied for a permit, it wouldn’t have been granted,” Wenman pointed out.

The city has not yet decided how it plans to respond to the court’s ruling. Woodside said there would likely be a meeting with the city’s attorney to determine whether the city should re-cite under a different set of changes.

It is also possible Mentor could face fines from the Department of Fisheries, which has been investigating his actions since the rock was first dumped back in January.

Woodside said she doubts the city will undertake an appeal of the municipal court ruling. Wenman said the original tickets had been for “a minimal amount.”

Mentor has consistently maintained his belief that his actions were merely done to protect the restaurant, not wreck salmon habitat. Early on, he retained a team of stream biologist to assist in rebuilding the creek bank in question while still complying with shoreline rules and regulations.

“The rock we’d put in was just to replace what was washed away in a couple places,” Mentor said.

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