County told to redo plan to save farms
CORVIN; The News Tribune
Pierce County, WA - Pierce County officials failed to justify a plan
to preserve 5,077 acres of farmland and to involve the public in the
creation of that plan, a state land-use panel says.
The Aug. 2 decision by the Central Puget Sound Growth Management
Hearings Board nullified an ordinance the County Council approved
in November 2003. The ordinance shielded farmland in the unincorporated
area east of Tacoma and in the Alderton-McMillin area from urban growth.
But the county's notices "never informed the public of the direction"
that the policies were heading, according to the hearings board's
Although county officials correctly used the richness of soils as
the basis of its new farmland policy, the hearings board said, they
didn't analyze two other important issues under Washington's Growth
Management Act: the land's proximity to population areas and the possibility
of more intense use of the land.
As a result, Pierce County must do a better job of involving the public
and examine other factors in protecting farms to make its comprehensive
land-use plan comply with the state's growth law, the board concluded.
The hearings board's decision responded to a Jan. 16 appeal of the
county's ordinance by Orton Farms LLC, Riverside Estates Joint Venture
and Knutson Farms.
Steve Burnham, an attorney for Investco Financial Corp., which manages
Orton Farms LLC, a development company, welcomed the decision.
"It puts everything back to status quo and allows us to continue
the farming operations that are going on out there," he said
Tuesday, adding that it also means the company can make long-range
plans for the property "without it being totally restricted to
In its decision, the hearings board also emphasized that local governments
have a responsibility to preserve farmland under Washington's 14-year-old
"It is undisputed that the (Growth Management Act) imposes a
duty upon Pierce County to identify, designate and protect agricultural
resource lands of long-term commercial significance," the board
County officials on Tuesday took solace in those remarks.
County Councilman Calvin Goings (D-Puyallup), chairman of the council's
Community Development Committee, said the county is already using
the criteria it should have used initially to pursue a new farmland
"What the (hearings) board did was help our case by foreshadowing
to us the checklist of items we should have showed in our work last
year," Goings said.
Pierce County's pursuit of a new farmland policy is happening as part
of the county's mandated 10-year review of its comprehensive land-use
plan. Decisions are expected this fall. The council is expected to
begin its first hearing Sept. 20.
The county should have done a better job of boosting public involvement
last year, Goings said, but that problem is being addressed in this
latest process through Planning Commission and council hearings.
The policy thrown out by the hearings board created a "rural
farm" zone prohibiting intensive residential and commercial development
on farmland in unincorporated areas. The "rural farm" designation
applied to farmland that was 2.5 acres or more in areas where 50 percent
or more of the land contained prime agricultural soils.
The new draft policy the county is considering is aimed at preserving
34,047 acres of farmland in the Puyallup Valley, including the unincorporated
area of Alderton-McMillin and properties outside the cities of Puyallup,
Fife, Sumner and Orting.
It would create two land-use zones - "Valley Farm" and "Rural
Farm" - to shield farmland from urban growth. Additionally, the
draft policy seeks to boost the farming industry: It would allow farmers
to build farm-related retail businesses on their land.
Pierce County has until Jan. 31, 2005, to take action to make its
land-use plan comply with the Growth Management Act, according to
the hearings board.
The Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board is one of
three such panels appointed by the governor to resolve land-use disputes.
Aaron Corvin: 253-552-7058
To learn more
For information about Pierce County's land-use plan and draft farmland
policy, call county research analyst Anna Graham at 253-798-6253 or
County Councilman Calvin Goings at 253-798-6694.