Clark County: Rural land division must wait

Wednesday, December 17, 2003
By ERIN MIDDLEWOOD, Columbian staff writer

Clark County, WA - Rural property owners hoping to divide their land now will have to wait for Clark County to complete its 20-year growth plan sometime next summer.

Clark County commissioners Tuesday voted 2-1 to shut down development of rural land while they finish a plan for expanding urban areas because developers including county planning commissioner Lonnie Moss have pushed projects into the pipeline before the zoning changes.

"The longer discussion of this plan goes on, the more of this will occur. We need some sort of moratorium," Commissioner Craig Pridemore said. "Preserving these options seems to be pretty vital."

"There are enough moving pieces right now," Commissioner Judie Stanton agreed.

"I can't vote for this," Commissioner Betty Sue Morris dissented. "It isn't the landowners' fault we've taken so long."

Commissioners are working on an update of the county's 1994 growth plan, the first adopted under the state's 1990 Growth Management Act. The plan guides where new houses and businesses will be built over 20 years. Though commissioners had hoped to finish the plan by the end of the year, they now say they are shooting for adoption in June.

The delay leaves developers plenty of time to take advantage of current zoning. Since August, when the county widely circulated maps of possible growth scenarios, the county has received 10 initial applications for developments in areas proposed for urban expansion.

"It is clear the private sector is beginning to move up at least some development plans to avoid proposed plan designations such as industrial or urban holding," according to a memo to commissioners from Rich Carson, director of the county's community development department.

Of the 10 applications, three are larger than 30 acres and the rest are 3.55 acres or smaller.

Blocking future industry?

Olson Engineering filed two subdivision applications in March on behalf of the Seventh-day Adventist Church for a total of 66 lots on 79 acres in Meadow Glade. That acreage is in an area targeted by the proposed growth plan for business and industrial development.

Planning commissioner Moss' firm on Nov. 20 filed an application on behalf of Michael Achen for a 27-lot Meadow Glade subdivision on 38 acres targeted for light industry.

Current zoning would permit the subdivisions, but if they're built, they would stand in the way of later industrial development.

Moss said he was surprised to hear of the hubbub his firm's application has caused.

"I don't think there was any kind of a rush to submit applications to avoid this new zoning," Moss said.

On the same day Moss & Associates filed a pre-application for the Meadow Glade subdivision, Moss voted for a map of Battle Ground's urban area that designated the land industrial.

"My agreeing with it as appropriate zoning doesn't mean that when a potential developer comes through my door and asks me to do something that's entirely in accordance with current regulations, I should say, 'I don't think I should do that because the new growth boundaries may prohibit that.' That would put me and my firm in a ludicrous position," Moss said.

He also notes the planning commission recommended that existing zoning continue in Meadow Glade until sewer service is extended there, which would delay industrial development anyway.

"I can understand how eyebrows go up. That's the nature of the business that I'm in," Moss added. "But we're going to continue to submit development applications that comply with local regulations and zoning."

County commissioners said they were not troubled by Moss' involvement.

"Everything comes down to perception," Stanton said. "But it was all public information for anyone who wanted to look at it."

"Every developer out there has watched every map," Pridemore concurred.

Pridemore had initially suggested a ban on development in all urban unincorporated areas, which would have included Orchards, Hazel Dell and other fast-growing areas. The county processes applications for 2,000 new houses in unincorporated areas each year.

"That would have been entirely crippling to this economy," said Randy Printz, a Vancouver land-use attorney.

The more limited moratorium "is largely symbolic" he said. "There are very few areas where the things Commissioner Pridemore worried about could happen. The bad news is that the message to the business community is that without any notice, the rules can change."

Get involved:

* Clark County commissioners will consider proposed expansion of urban growth areas in a work session at 10 a.m. Jan. 14 in the Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St., sixth floor.


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