Editorial: County must end dispute over GMA

Dec 12 2002 12:00AM

By the Editorial Board of the Union-Bulletin

Walla Walla, WA - Now is the time to come to an agreement with the city on urban growth. Too much time and money has already been wasted on this dispute.

Many people who live in Walla Walla County, particularly the more rural parts of the county, aren't enamored with the Growth Management Act.

Walla Walla County commissioners certainly fall in that category.

Commissioner David Carey, for example, makes no secret of his disdain for the act and often calls his decision to accept state funding - thus locking the county into complying with the act - the worst of his career as a commissioner.

But the county did opt into the GMA, accepting about $75,000 a year to do the planning.

That means the county must comply with the act.

Yet, that's not happening. Recently, the Growth Management Hearings Board for Eastern Washington ruled portions of the county's development regulations, which are used to enforce the county's Comprehensive Plan, are not in compliance with state law.

Parts of the county's development regulations were challenged by the city of Walla Walla and two citizens' watchdog groups. In particular, the city is concerned that the county's plan will allow development to leapfrog urban growth areas west of Walla Walla and north of College Place where the city has already extended municipal utilities.

The concern is valid.

This dispute, which has been framed as a property rights issue, is simply about sound planning. While those who own property outside the urban growth area might like to develop that property, they had no guarantee it could be developed when they bought it.

But the city, when it spent public money to put in sewer and water infrastructure into the urban growth area outside the city limits, did so with the expectation that it would be used. The growth planning under way was, after all, supposed to curb urban sprawl.

The county commissioners, however, have too easily bought into the rhetoric about the state trying to control private property and, as a result, seemed to delay implementing a growth plan as a way to show defiance.

We, too, are leary of state mandates. But the state was right to ask county governments to do reasonable land-use planning.

Walla Walla County now seems to be just on the other side of reasonable.

The Growth Management Hearings Board did not invalidate the county's development regulations. Instead, it took only declared the regulations out of compliance. That lesser determination was made because the county had already put a temporary moratorium on growth in the disputed area. Imposing the the moratorium was a step in the right direction.

Now is the time to come to an agreement with the city on urban growth. It's foolish to spend thousands of dollars on legal fees fighting the inevitable.

Implementing the GMA has been painful. But now, after more than a decade, the process is just about complete. Let's finish the job, and finish it right.

A reasonable blueprint for growth in Walla Walla County benefits those inside and outside the urban growth area.


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