Stevens to change its growth rules - State says county rules to save `critical areas' are defective


John Craig
Staff writer
Spokesman-Review

1/13/04

Spokane, WA - Stevens County officials say they will cooperate with a state order this week giving them four months to fix problems with an ordinance to protect environmentally sensitive lands.

The Eastern Washington Growth Management Hearings Board said in a 30-page decision this week that the second of two Stevens County ordinances for protecting "critical areas" is defective. The board already had found the other ordinance out of compliance with the Growth Management Act in a ruling last November.

County commissioners are moving to repeal the "interim" ordinance that was the subject of the November ruling. That ordinance was supposed to have been replaced by a permanent ordinance, called Title 13, but commissioners left the interim ordinance on the books when both the old and new rules became snarled in legal challenges.

Jeanie Wagenman and some 200 other Loon Lake property owners, known as the Larson Beach Neighbors, filed complaints that both ordinances failed in numerous ways to provide state-required environmental protections.

The regional hearings board largely agreed with the Loon Lake group's criticisms of Title 13. In its ruling this week, the board listed nine defects in the ordinance, ranging from failure to respond to comments to failure to protect wetlands.

The county moved Thursday to abandon its Superior Court challenge of the growth board's November ruling. Commissioners recently passed a resolution signaling their intention to repeal the ordinance covered by the November decision.

"But we're not going to repeal it until we go through the public participation because, otherwise, we'll get in trouble for that," County Commissioner Malcolm Friedman said.

County officials have scheduled a public hearing at 6:30p.m. Feb.26 at Chewelah City Hall to discuss the interim-ordinance repeal.

Friedman said he and his fellow commissioners concluded that their best chance of success was to focus on Title 13, which "has a lot more public participation behind it." He said many of the faults the growth board found this week with Title 13 were anticipated.

Friedman said commissioners are committed to resolving growth management disputes that have festered for a decade and now could result in economically crippling tax sanctions. The growth board asked Gov. Gary Locke in November to withhold state-shared tax money from the county until it complies with the board's orders.

"I think it's going to take compromise to get there," Friedman said. "Somewhere in the middle, we've got to find common ground."

The alternative is a "war" the county can't win, he said. "They'll take us out financially."

A Locke spokesman said Thursday that the governor hasn't decided whether to impose sanctions.

County commissioners urged Locke in a Jan.28 letter to refrain from sanctions, contending they had been "working diligently" to comply with the state law.

They cited difficulties reconciling the Growth Management Act's environmental goals with "maintaining productive agricultural industries, protecting private property rights and encouraging economic development" in a depressed area.

The county has been hamstrung for two years by a growth board ruling that the county's subdivision ordinance is invalid. Without a subdivision ordinance, property owners in unincorporated parts of the county can't divide their land into parcels smaller than 20 acres.


John Craig may be contacted at (509) 459-5429 or by e-mail at johnc@spokesman.com.


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