OLYMPIA -- Thurston County Commissioners have decided to petition the State Supreme Court for review of several land use issues that were recently ruled on by the State Court of Appeals. At the same time, they agreed to move forward with plans that may result in a phased lifting of a moratorium on new subdivisions that has been in place for nearly two years.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Fancher says the petition for review will center on three key issues-
- The scope of the seven-year review of county comprehensive plan/development regulations and ten-year review of the urban growth areas and whether parties should be able to object to parts of the plan and regulations years after adoption.
- Whether designated resource lands, such as long-term forestlands, can be included for the calculation of the county's variety of rural densities.
- Resizing of the county's Urban Growth Areas (UGA)- Whether the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board erred by ignoring the presumption of validity owed to the county's UGAs by unlawfully imposing on the County the burden to justify the size of its urban growth areas that were adopted many years earlier.
Fancher says these are key issues for which the county and its citizens deserve to have some final answers. "A ruling from the State Supreme Court will not only provide guidance for Thurston County but also for other cities and counties across the state who are facing the same land use planning issues. Under the decision of the Court of Appeals, locally adopted plans and regulations will never be final and always subject to challenge. The County is bringing forward substantial issues of public interest that should be determined by the Supreme Court."
Meanwhile, the county will be moving ahead with other issues cited by the Growth Management Hearings Board in a 2005 ruling that Thurston County was out of compliance with growth management regulations. A public hearing will be held at 6:00pm at the Thurston County Fairgrounds Expo Center on Monday May 7th regarding Agricultural Lands designation and Limited Areas of More Intensive Rural Development (Lamirds). County Commissioners hope to finalize work on those two issues by May 30th. Once that is accomplished, they may be able to lift the moratorium on undeveloped lands within ALREADY ESTABLISHED Lamirds.
On May 29th at 5:30 at the Worthington Center in Lacey, an open house will be held on the Planning Commission and staff proposals regarding rezoning in the rural areas of Thurston County . The meeting will allow county residents a chance to give their opinions regarding various plans to provide a variety of land use densities in the unincorporated areas. A hearing on these proposals could be held in late June to consider adoption. The goal is to finalize the rural rezone work before the end of the current moratorium on July 30th. IF the work is satisfactorily completed, Commissioners could then lift the moratorium on new subdivisions in the RURAL part of the county.
Meanwhile, work would continue regarding the size of the urban growth areas around the cities, pending review by both the Growth Management Hearings Board and the State Supreme Court. Hopefully, that part of the conflict can be resolved later this year with assistance from the Thurston Regional Planning Council. The moratorium could be lifted in the urban growth areas at the conclusion of the work.
County Commission Chair Diane Oberquell says the end cannot come soon enough. "Frankly I'm very frustrated that this situation has just dragged on and has placed many people's lives on hold. I would like to be able to give the citizens of this county some certainty regarding use of their property and it has been very difficult to be caught between the Hearings Board and an environmental group that is not even based in this county."