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July 23, 2008
Land-use decision is scrutinized
ENUMCLAW, Washington (STPNS) -- By Kevin Hanson-The Courier-Herald
In light of a recent court decision that favored civic activists ? at the expense of King County land-use planners ? select members of the Metropolitan King County Council have suggested certain rules be overturned.
In a classic case of partisan politics, other members of the county council warn that the court ruling could make things even worse for the county?s rural citizens.
The issue pits Republicans against Democrats and grassroots activists against environmentalists. It paints a picture of King County?s rural residents squaring off against perceived ?big city? values. Continuing the power struggle, King County Executive Ron Sims has announced he will appeal the recent decision to the Washington State Supreme Court.
At the heart of the legal wrangling is the county?s Critical Areas Ordinance, passed in 2004, and the Citizens Alliance for Property Rights, a group formed a few years ago during an open meeting at Ron Mariotti?s Enumclaw Sales Pavilion. The organization was formed, and has been funded, by citizens tired of the way King County deals with rural property owners.
The CAO was passed by a 7-6 vote, strictly along party lines, with the council?s Democratic majority coming out on top. Sims and Democratic council members have maintained the package of ordinances is necessary to protect environmentally-sensitive areas.
The Citizens Alliance has been clear in its opposition to the CAO, calling it an unfair and illegal ?taking? of personal property. The group filed legal action in 2005, challenging the package of ordinances that make up the CAO.
Earlier this month, the state?s Court of Appeals determined that while the CAO was made necessary by the state?s Growth Management Act, a specific portion of the CAO ? a ?clearing and grading? ordinance ? was not required and amounts to an indirect ?tax, fee or charge? placed on rural property owners.
The rural clearing limits were based upon a 65/10 model which required that 65 percent of a development site would remain in native vegetation while up to 10 percent could be covered by impervious surfaces.
The three-member Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the county could not impose blanket regulations when it comes to land clearing.
In light of that, the Republican members of the County Council introduced a repeal of the rural clearing limits imposed by the ?clearing and grading? provision.
Taking a lead in the move for change was Councilman Regan Dunn, whose far-reaching district includes the southern portion of King County, including the Enumclaw Plateau. He serves as chairman of the council?s Republican Caucus.
?My colleagues and I urge the council to act on this, thereby saving our county taxpayers two more years of unnecessary legal bills,? Dunn said, referring to the proposed repeal. ?This ordinance takes us back to the system we had prior to the unlawful rural clearing limits.?
?Thousands of families who live in rural King County have been prohibited from using their property, even when that property does not have critical areas,? added Councilwoman Kathy Lambert. ?This unanimous court decision gives us an opportunity to revisit this county policy and create a strategy that balances environmental concerns and private property rights.?
Sims made his feeling known in a prepared release.
?We are very disappointed with the court?s ruling, which indicated that the county?s 65-percent standard for maintaining current vegetation on every project should be evaluated on an individual basis,? Sims said.
The ruling, he added, ?fails to recognize that these clearing limits help recharge groundwater used by rural property owners for their drinking water and protects rural property owners against flood risks.?
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