News

Land-use appeal won't go before county voters

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

Three measures seeking to overturn King County’s recently implemented critical-areas regulations won’t appear on the March ballot since Superior Court Judge Palmer Robinson issued a summary judgment last week that reiterated land-use planning issues aren’t subject to public referenda.

The Citizens’ Alliance for Property Rights (CAPR), opponents of the new critical areas package, collected enough signatures to put the three referenda on the ballot. But the judge essentially ruled the legislation wasn’t up for a vote, said Carolyn Duncan, spokeswoman for County Executive Ron Sims.

The rules took effect Jan. 1.

The critical-areas package comprises three ordinances — stormwater control, preservation of critical areas, and restrictions on clearing and grading — and governs land-use issues like development, construction, cutting down trees or clearing brush, and farming in the county’s environmentally sensitive or hazardous areas. The package limits the amount of land rural property owners can develop.

While the regulations don’t affect incorporated cities such as Federal Way, Des Moines or Auburn, they do affect unincorporated areas nearby.

County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer, who represents parts of south King County, including the Federal Way area, opposed the ordinance, saying it was like a government taking of private property without compensation.

CAPR leaders said the package is unfair because it requires rural county residents to mitigate water-quality impacts caused by development in urban areas. Alliance members are opposed to the county asking rural landowners to preserve as much as 65 percent of their properties to provide a public benefit without compensation.

But others in the county, including Councilman Dow Constantine, the environmental group 1000 Friends of Washington, and the Center for Environmental Law and Policy, were supportive of the critical areas package.

Constantine, who represents Vashon Island, Burien, White Center and West Seattle, said the ordinances protect sensitive areas from land-use activities that could lead to clear-cutting, flooding, groundwater contamination and sprawl.

Sims agreed, but added the county must reach out to rural residents opposed to the package.

Sims said a team will work on the “issues driving rural residents’ concerns,” and a rural economic development specialist has been hired “to help us look at what it will take to enable people to live and work in the rural areas while preserving rural character.”

Duncan said many residents of unincorporated areas won’t see a difference in how they live. “For most people, as long as they’re doing what they’ve always done with their land, it won’t go into affect,” she said.

For those engaged in or interested in farming or logging, the critical-areas package actually makes it easier because some layers of government have been removed, she said.

“If someone wants to do something major to their property, these ordinances kick in,” Duncan said. “But the ordinances are designed to be flexible. There’s probably a way for most people to find a way to do what they want to do.”

Still, county officials said the referenda illuminated rural residents’ distrust of county government.

“We need to do a better job getting the information out there,” Duncan said.

Sims said county officials were pleased with the court ruling, but “we are very concerned about our relationship with the rural community. These referendums tell me we have work to do.”

More information about the ordinances is available on-line from the countyat www.metrokc.gov/cao. The site can also be reached through www.fedwaymirror.com, the Mirror’s Web site.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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