Land-use measure approved

But 'critical areas ordinance' lambasted by some on council

A King County proposal to govern land use - an idea soundly ridiculed during public meetings staged in Enumclaw - was passed last week by the Metropolitan King County Council.

The deeply-divided vote to approve the new Critical Areas Ordinance followed party lines and was passed by the council's seven-member Democratic majority.

Those on the other side of the aisle were adamant in their opposition.

Passage of the CAO "sets a bad precedent for establishing land-use law and takes King County's growth management efforts in the wrong direction," said six members of the Metropolitan King County Council in a press release.

Steve Hammond, the Enumclaw Plateau's representative on the council, has long voiced his opposition to the Critical Areas Ordinance. That didn't change following the council vote.

"This poorly drafted legislation has been powered by pressure from urban special interests, who want to enact severe land use restrictions on the politically vulnerable segment of the county," Hammond said. "The majority of the council has not listened to the rural property owners, who actually steward the land. No emergency has ever been identified, nor has an answer been provided to the question, 'Who, and by what authority, is saying that King County is currently out of compliance with the Growth Management Act?'"

In voting against the CAO, Hammond and five other council members charged that the new laws restricting land-clearing and construction on rural property are based on inadequate scientific data and a flawed review process. The process failed to provide crucial links between science and policy formation, resulting in arbitrary standards that cannot guarantee improvement in land-use activities, they said.

Joining together to oppose the council members who represent most of the rural areas of the county: Hammond, Jane Hague, David Irons, Kathy Lambert, Rob McKenna and Pete von Reichbauer. They introduced a number of amendments that would have moderated the CAO restrictions, but which were voted down by the Council majority.

"We have raised many questions about the scientific basis for these proposals and the underlying need for such severe restrictions, which may be the strictest land-use laws in the country," said Irons, vice chair of the Growth Management and Unincorporated Areas Committee. "Answers to our questions often were inadequate or unresponsive."

"After 10 years, King County should be celebrating the accomplishments of farmers, citizens, environmentalists and government working together on land-use practices established by the 1994 Comprehensive Plan," Lambert said. "Instead, we are making government more restrictive and intrusive in people's daily lives."

The key supporter of the CAO, Executive Ron Sims, proclaimed the success of these land-use laws. "We have preserved farms and resource lands, rehabilitated habitat for salmon and other wildlife, and focused development in urban areas, not rural areas," he said.

The CAO was proposed by Sims and presented to the council in March. The council's Growth Management and Unincorporated Areas Committee reviewed the proposal and the accompanying Stormwater and Clearing and Grading ordinances at a number of meetings and public hearings. Several thousand people submitted testimony - by phone, mail, e-mail, fax and in person - opposing the CAO, particularly the provision requiring no clearing or use of 65 percent of properties in the rural area, and the extension of wetland buffers up to 300 feet.

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