Rural zoning draft draws crowd
By John Dodge
June 20, 2006
TUMWATER, WA - A controversial draft plan to reduce the zoning density for about 40 percent of rural Thurston County drew about 125 people to a workshop Monday night at the state Department of Labor and Industries building in Tumwater.
For some, it's a pocketbook issue as county officials prepare to reduce the number of buildable lots in the rural area to comply with a July 2005 Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board ruling that said the county's current rural zoning of one home per five acres promotes sprawl.
"We didn't invest in stocks and bonds - we put our money into land as an investment for the future," said Waldrick Road property owner George Miller.
On one hand, Miller and his wife, Ruth, were pleased to see that an earlier draft that would have placed about 65 acres they own into a one-home-per-20-acres category is now scheduled to remain one home per five acres, which is the standard zoning.
But Miller was discouraged to see that the 30-acre family farm where his parents live in the Hawks Prairie area, zoned one unit per 2 acres, could be headed for one home per 20 acres.
For others, the rural rezone is seen as one of the only land-use tools in the book to reduce sprawl, preserve open space and protect fish and wildlife and water quality.
Vince Cottone, a Brooks Lane property owner just south of Tumwater, saw his 10-acre parcel changed from one home per five acres to one home per 10 acres.
"I have no problem with that - it's appropriate," he said of the decision, noting that much of the area around him is prone to flooding from a high groundwater table.
The overall proposal calls for 77,800 acres of one-unit-per-20 acre zoning and 23,000 acres of 10-acre parcels, county senior planner Jennifer Hayes said.
"The growth management hearings board didn't give us a target," Hayes said. "Our neighboring counties are anywhere from 10 percent to 80 percent - we're 40 percent."
In a related move, several rural areas of the county that are pockets of higher density - including Boston Harbor, the lakes areas near Lacey, Rochester and Steamboat Island - could see more 5-acre zoning.
Under the draft proposal, about 8,700 acres of the 11,900 acres of more intensive rural development such as one unit per acre or two units per acre will revert to one home per 5 acres to comply with the growth hearing board order.
If the land wasn't developed prior to passage of the state Growth Management Act in 1990, chances are it will not keep its high-density zoning, county planners explained.
FutureWise, a Seattle-based growth management watchdog group, challenged the county's land-use laws last year, leading to the growth hearings board ruling.
The county has until Nov. 30 to comply with the growth management board's directive.
The order also calls on the city to reduce the size of the urban growth areas designed for the cities to eventually incorporate and do more to preserve agricultural lands.
While moving forward with the zoning changes, the county is also appealing the board's ruling to the state Supreme Court.
The county will post online the draft rural rezoning proposal and maps to show the zoning changes, and accept public comments online.
After Tuesday, county planners will review the public comments and prepare a final draft that will be back online for review and comment by July 12.
A public hearing on the final plan is set for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 3 at the Saint Martin's University Norman Worthington Conference Center, 5300 Pacific Ave. S.E., Lacey.
The Web site address is www.co.thurston.wa.us/permitting/GMA/index.htm.
John Dodge is a senior reporter and Sunday columnist for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5444 or firstname.lastname@example.org.