Real people bitten by land-use laws
By Martha M. Ireland for Peninsula Daily News
Column of August 15, 2008
“Anybody who has a lot of time on their hands can pick any [ordinance] apart,” Jim Hagen of Cape George said about my column last week on legal appeals and rulings that scrambled Clallam County zoning, Jefferson County critical area codes and urban growth areas in both counties.
As a Jefferson County Planning Commissioner from 2004 to 2007, Hagen worked on the critical areas code that the Washington Environmental Council challenged in 2005 and the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board ruled non-compliant.
Hagen is now president of Olympic Stewardship Foundation, which appealed the replacement ordinance, adopted in March, that imposes “excessive rules that materially interfere with growth management act goals,” he said.
Hagen argues that the state Growth Management Act should be amended to recognize the different planning needs of rural jurisdictions, instead of requiring lightly populated, remote, unincorporated communities to plan at the same level as Seattle.
“Sophisticated micro-management seems contrary to the kind of lifestyle Jefferson County is known for,” he said. “Small counties have limited resources. We can’t afford to keep redoing something over and over.”
Out-of-area activists have standing to file appeals, which are heard by growth hearings boards comprised of out-of-area people appointed by the governor, who issue orders without “showing where harm is occurring and how increased regulation is going to prevent that,” Hagen said.
Appeals, rulings and “über-regulations” run “contrary to our whole system of justice,” he said. “It presumes guilt—it presumes we’re going to harm the environment, and ordinances are presumed deficient just because they’re appealed.”
Local conditions and needs are often not recognized, leading to rulings that may accomplish more harm than good, he said.
For example, 20 years of planning preceded the Hadlock urban growth area designation that was declared invalid, he said.
Four years later, Hadlock’s future remains unsettled, negatively impacting the environment, affordable housing, and businesses, while infrastructure costs soar, he said.
A Phase 1 Hadlock sewer might serve as few as 1,000 people, Hagen said, yet the projected cost is now $30 million.
“The assumption that the county will be able to get grants” may prove false, considering current economic conditions and state deficit projections, he said.
Less visible are effects on individuals who are impacted by sudden changes due to hearings board rulings.
My friend and neighbor, Jim Beam, said his plan to divide Quarter Moon Ranch into eight 2.5-acre lots was derailed at the worst possible time.
Beam began the process “not willingly,” he told me, but out of necessity. His wife, Ann, is reasonably healthy “except she doesn’t remember anything or anybody.” Ann’s care at Harbor House, a dementia facility in Poulsbo, costs more than Jim gets paid in his state fisheries agency job.
Beam had just taken out a mortgage to cover development and permitting costs, when Clallam County responded to a hearings board ruling by down-zoning roughly 21,000 acres across the county.
Like hundreds of other property owners, myself included, the Beams suddenly lost half their development rights.
“This 20-acre property is all Ann had for retirement,” Beam said.
Quarter Moon abuts the unincorporated Carlsborg urban growth area and is surrounded by small-lot subdivisions that predate the 1990 Growth Management Act.
Selling four 5-acre lots won’t generate enough revenue to repay the mortgage, plus pay for Ann’s care, and would leave Jim without the home where he hopes to continue to live.
“I can’t do anything—just wait,” Beam said.
Meanwhile, the Clallam County Planning Commission is meeting every Wednesday evening to sort out the various elements of the hearings board rulings that disrupted so many lives, with potentially tragic results.
Rural zoning will be the focus 6:30 p.m. Aug. 27 at the county courthouse, 223 E. Fourth St., Port Angeles.
Visit www.clallam.net for details.
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