proposed to end
critical areas ordinance
by Dan Ross, Sequim Gazette
Property rights activists
are mounting a campaign to have the county's Critical Areas
Bob Forde, of Sequim, is
awaiting approval from county elections officials to begin
gathering signatures and place a local initiative on the
November 2001 ballot calling for the end of the Critical Areas
"We believe the
Clallam County Critical Areas Code is contrary to wise
environmental practices, that it creates dangerous high
densities on our lands and artificially restricts the best use
of land," Forde wrote in the petition to repeal the
All Washington counties
are required under the 1995 Growth Management Act to highlight
the critical areas of the county and develop regulations to
protect those areas.
Critical areas are
described as wetlands, fish and wildlife habitat conservation
areas, geologically hazardous areas, frequently flooded areas
and critical aquifer-recharge areas.
Over one-half of all
property in Clallam County falls into one or more of the
critical areas categories, and Forde said he believes the
county is overzealous in its interpretation of what the state
"We are hearing new
cases every day where people cannot build on their own land
because of the staff's interpretation of the code," said
Bob Martin, director of
the county department of community development, said the code
and the county's enforcement of the code, are proper.
"It does what the
state requires us to do," said Martin. "We developed
an ordinance with two main parts; one, to identify critical
areas and two, to develop an ordinance to protect those
officers, Martin said, do property inspections when complaints
are filed by county residents, but they do not patrol the
county looking for illegal building or construction in a
wetlands or along a creek or river.
Commissioners debate the
County Commissioners Mike
Chapman, R-Port Angeles, and Steve Tharinger, D-Dungeness,
appear to be setting up on opposite sides of the debate
whether the critical areas code, as it is written, is good for
Chapman was elected last
November on a platform that heavily focused on private
property rights. He said during the campaign he believed the
county places too many restrictions on how property owners can
develop their land. His views remain the same now that he is
one of the three county commissioners.
"In some areas I
believe it goes too far, and this gives another chance to
debate," said Chapman. One of the troubling areas in the
code, Chapman said, is a requirement for buffers of 50-200
feet along each side of most county streams, creeks and
The Western Growth
Management Hearings Board ruled earlier this year the county
needs to add buffer zones for "Type 5" streams,
something Chapman described as streams with no fish and
without year-round water flow. "Like a ditch out in
Forks. I cannot support that kind of requirement,"
The hearings board
requirement, Chapman said, goes too far in what it asks of
Clallam County. He feels the code is already one of the most
restrictive in the state, and additional restrictions are
"Maybe this is a
good place for the county to draw a line in the sand and say,
this is going too far," said Chapman. "We have one
of the most comprehensive ordinances on the books, maybe it is
time to say no, enough is enough."
Tharinger said the
hearing board consensus was that except for a few areas like
the buffers, Clallam County has done an excellent job
developing the ordinance.
"It seems we are on
the right track," with the code, Tharinger added.
He said the county is
being asked by the hearings board to come up with reduced
buffers in areas of minor development and the additional
buffers for Type 5 waters.
"We have an
(agricultural) exemption and we need to tighten that up,"
Martin and other county
planning and building department officials have stated they
are pleased with the code and that Clallam County was one of
the first counties in the state to meet the growth management
area requirements for a critical areas code. Chapman said he
believes the county does not need to be a state leader in
developing property rights codes.
"As a rural county,
do we need to take the lead on this?" he asked.
The state requirements
for protecting critical areas in Clallam County do not
disappear if Forde's group is successful in repealing the
critical areas code. A new code would need to be developed,
something Chapman is very interested in being a part of.
"I would like to
work on something that is less restrictive," said
Chapman. "I do believe you cannot have nothing when state
law says you have to have something."
The challenge, Chapman
said, of developing a new code, is balancing property rights
with protecting the environment.
A January 2001 appeal to
the Growth Management Hearings Board came from environmental
groups Protect the Peninsula's Future and the Washington
Environmental Council, claiming more restrictions are needed
on building in or near critical areas. The attempt to repeal
the code is coming from property rights activists, claiming
the code is too restrictive.
"One side says it
went too far. One side said it does not go far enough,"
said Chapman, "And there may not be a compromise that all
people can live with. I think a vote of the people is not a
bad way to go."
Tharinger agreed a middle
ground needs to be found between environmental and property
rights groups in the county.
"It is the
environmentalists who want the buffers, and they need to step
up and help the landowners," said Tharinger.
He said the county is
receiving grants to purchase conservation easements from
landowners throughout the county. This, he said, can help
landowners who feel the right to develop their land is being
taken away by implementing the critical areas code.
"If a person is
being unduly impacted, they can get some compensation,"
Tharinger said, for not being able to use all the land on
Although he campaigned on
a platform of private property rights, Chapman said he is
avoiding any work with Forde's group, the Committee to repeal
the Critical Areas Code. He does support their efforts to
repeal the code.
"It seemed a little
bit of a conflict of interest now that I am a commissioner to
be a part of that committee," said Chapman. "I
represent the people, but I am not a champion of initiatives.
I am not a big fan of elected officials endorsing or opposing
Forde needs to gather
about 3,200 valid signatures of registered Clallam County
voters, or 10 percent of the people in the county who voted in
the November 2000 election, to qualify his initiative for the
November 2001 ballot.
If Forde is successful in
gathering the signatures, commissioners can put the initiative
into effect by their own vote, or by not acting, the
initiative goes onto the November 2001 ballot.
Chapman has indicated he
would bring the initiative to a vote of the commissioners if
Forde is successful.
"If 10 percent
respond, I think that is a lot of people speaking out."
Forde's goal is to come
with at least 4,000 signatures, if not more. He is planning a
kickoff rally for the petition at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 24, in
the Port Angeles City Council Chambers.
"I would like to
walk into the commissioners' office and drop 10,000 signatures
on them," said Forde.
Forde can be reached at
360-681-6955, days or 360-681-3023 evenings.
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