Public Hearing on Land Use – May 7 – County to Appeal Ruling to State Supreme Court

Two pieces of news of interest to those of us watching the direction of land use in this county. First, the Thurston County Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing on May 7, 2007, at 6:00 p.m. at the Thurston Expo Center, located within Thurston County Fair Grounds, 3054 Carpenter Rd SE, Lacey, Washington. Click here for a map.

The hearing is on the following topics: Limited Areas of More Intensive Rural Development (LAMIRDs) and Designation Criteria for Agricultural Lands of Long-Term Commercial Significance.

An open house will precede the public hearing at 5:15 p.m., at the same location.

The County’s web page, at, contains a wealth of information, both background and information specifically about this public hearing.

In related news, the County will appeal to the State Supreme Court the results of an Appeals Court ruling which was the topic of a previous posting to this blog. Click here for the previous post.

As reported by The Olympian in a story published May 1:

[County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Fancher] said the petition to the Supreme Court will be based on three key issues:

• The scope of the state’s current system of a seven-year review of county plans and 10-year reviews of urban growth areas. The question is whether parties should be able to object to parts of plans or regulations years after they are adopted.

• Whether long-term forest lands can be included for calculating rural densities.

• Issues regarding re-sizing Thurston County’s urban growth areas. The question is whether the growth board erred by imposing a burden on the county to justify the size of urban growth areas that were adopted years earlier.

From the County’s web page announcing the May 7th public hearing, we read:

After being briefed on the Court of Appeals decision the Board of County Commissioners has decided to proceed to public hearing (please see the notice posted at the top of this page for details) with the LAMIRD (Limited Areas of More Intensive Rural Development) and the Long Term Agricultural Lands Designation Criteria projects. Staff is continuing work on the Urban Growth Area evaluation and potential resizing project. The Board has not yet decided what action they will take regarding the Planning Commission’s recommended rural rezoning proposals and the associated moratorium. These matters will be addressed in the future.

In a related article, also published on May 1st, The Olympian reported that “Planning Commission members were enthusiastic about using different land-use options.”

The State Appeals Court acknowledged that the County could address some of its growth management issues through so-called “innovative techniques.” The Olympian cited these techniques, in particular:

• Cluster zoning: grouping higher density housing developments together to allow for larger open space areas.

• Transfer of development rights: allowing people who don’t want to use all of their allotted zoning development rights to sell the extra rights to other residents to use elsewhere.

• Eliminating critical areas from zoning density calculations: not counting wetlands or other critical areas when determining the densities for the rest of a property.

Many of us already believe the County has fallen far short of the mark, both at defining such “innovative techniques” and in the application and enforcement of those approaches the County does choose to adopt. A court may give Thurston County credit for these steps, but residents on the Steamboat Island Peninsula can point to several examples of utter failure in the application of the County’s cluster zoning regulations and in the recognition of critical areas.

Let’s admit it: Thurston County has, historically, given largely lip service to the sort of “innovative techniques” it now hopes the courts will permit in the county’s growth management planning. While the county will continue to spend taxpayer’s money in court, in the end, it will be up to the county to prove it’s sincerely ready to get down to business, when it comes to growth management. For way too many years, Thurston County believed it could avoid anything remotely approximating responsible planning.

Now, at last, maybe the chickens have indeed come home to roost.

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