Public voices concerns at GMA hearing - Sounding off: Land division and road upgrades among issues addressed at four-hour hearing

By Brian Mittge
The Chronicle, 

Brian Mittge / The Chronicle

Nearly 200 citizens wait for the start of a Growth Management Act public hearing Thursday night in the jammed Newaukum Grange Hall.

Lewis County, WA - 2/4/02 - Brian Greene has helped drill wells for plenty of Seattle retirees settling on 10- or 20-acre parcels in rural Lewis County, but the 25-year-old Chehalin worries he will never be able to afford to do the same.

"Most of the people who own large acreage have lived there a long time or inherited it," he said. "Most people my age aren't going to be able to afford 20 acres."

Greene was one of nearly 200 citizens who crowded the Newaukum Grange Hall Thursday night to sound off on growth management. He shared the podium with dozens of speakers, most of whom were two or three times his age.

Most who spoke asked that their land be rezoned one home per 5 acres, allowing them to squeeze more homesites on parcels throughout the county.

Max Vogt of the Lewis County Association of Realtors said requiring large parcels of land for development reduces the pool of buyers to wealthy retirees.

This has the ironic effect of making lots too expensive for most buyers and at the same time preventing sellers from making as much money as they otherwise could by splitting into more parcels, Vogt said.

Under proposed development regulations, many county areas are zoned one home per 10 acres, with others set at one per 5, one per 20 and up through 1 home per 80 acres in forest, agriculture and mineral resource lands.

Only a handful of the more than 40 speakers had anything but harsh criticism for the Growth Management Act.

"I think it's only right," said David Schaefer of Winlock, who wants to divide land for his eight children. "You live on a property for 73 years, you should be able to use it as you want."

The planning commission is already sympathetic to the landowning crowd. The public hearings are geared toward the state board that in March will decide whether this will finally be the Lewis County plan that "no longer significantly interferes with the goals of the act."

All the public hearings are carefully audio- and videotaped. Citizen comments will act as a paper trail to help the county prove its case.

Chehalis real estate agent Greg Lund urged the county to hold fast to its original plan of one home per 5 acres unless steep slopes or wetlands required lower densities.

A similar plan was clearly rejected by the hearings board in its 2000 decision.

Without development, Lund said, "the only growth industry you're going to have is meth."

Joe and Sona Markholt of Mossyrock said the development moratorium, declared by the county 18 months ago because its development plans were deemed invalid, has choked their business, Salmon Creek Meats.

They are also concerned their business might be forced to close because it did not exist in 1993, the county's cutoff date to begin planning under GMA.

Gary Zandell of Onalaska, also Lewis County auditor, said densities of one home per 2&Mac221; acres would be reasonable.

He, and others, also argued against the newly-created Agriculture and Forest Protection District, which allows some farmland to be developed intensively if the other 85 percent of the property is left largely open.

Others said farmers should be able to opt in and out of the AFPD designation.

Nathan Brown said landowners should be able to build a "mother-in-law" building next to another house. Requiring a temporary home to be "thrown away" after several years is a waste of resources, he said.

He suggested a revolt against state control, even if it means giving up state funding as well.

"We're resilient people. Let's go govern ourselves," he said. "I think we have the ability."

Klaus resident Sherwood "S.C." Schantz said the GMA is just one of many unconstitutional laws that infringe on property rights -- and like any other theft, should be resisted with force, if necessary.

The planning commission was especially stone-faced during his talk, refusing to answer his rhetorical questions.

Mike McDonald of Winlock encouraged the county to take its time rather than turning in a plan that would do the county harm in the future.

John Penberth of Pe Ell, a member of the citizens group who crafted the current plan last year, urged the county to simply follow the hearings board's decision.

"This could have been resolved within a couple of weeks," he said.

Ron Averill, another member of last year's citizens group, noted that many small parcels are grandfathered in, providing a place for young people to put a home.

As far as people's disgust for development restrictions is concerned, Averill said, "whether we like GMA or not, we still have to deal with the fact that it's there."

Pat Underhill, also a former CAC member, noted that the soft real estate market in Lewis County probably wouldn't support all the land people seem to want to subdivide.

"Based on all the people who want to develop their land, there's a line 10 miles long of people wanting to buy in the county," he said.

He also suggested using 1950 or 1900 maps of the county, with dozens of now-disappeared logging towns, as maps for development.

Thursday's meeting was the last public hearing by the planning commission, but the group will continue to meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the next few weeks to hash out its recommendations.

The county commission will then hold two public hearings before making its own changes. The county's final plan is scheduled to go to the hearings board on March 15.

There's more than a little sense of urgency to the county's desire to wrap up its 10 years of adventures with the GMA.

A June 2000 ruling by the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board ruled against the county's plan for rural development, saying it didn't do enough to prevent sprawl, protect rural character or guarantee a variety of rural densities, and that the process didn't include enough public participation.

The county's original plans were appealed by a group of citizens -- the petitioners -- who said the plan didn't do enough to channel growth to incorporated cities, and to ensure adequate transportation and roads.

Several of the petitioners were in attendance at the meeting.

Tammy Baker and Dan Smith of Chehalis said the plan ignored critical areas, including floodplains.

"With our flooding record, there is one family wage job available," Smith said. "Maybe we could get a Coast Guard station here."

Cinebar resident Doug Hayden read at length from a seven-page written statement claiming the county's plans would not require new development to pay for necessary improvements to roads, as required by the GMA.

Rather than analyzing specific intersections or stretches of road that have the most problems during rush hour, the county analyzes entire corridors over a long period of time, Hayden said.

"No development is going to have to start paying for its impacts on the road system until far in the future," he said. "How many people will be killed because of roadway condition(s) that go unattended either through lack of funding or a desire to pretend that everything is fine?"

The county's transportation analyst, Perry Shea of Lacey, said the "corridor average" is a standard system used throughout the Puget Sound region.

Greene, the 25-year-old, wants to buy land in Adna near his in-laws, but most of the property there is zoned one home per 20 acres.

"You should be able to pick where you want to live, not move because that's where the lots are," he said.

"A lot of the people here are trying to protect what they have," he said. "But what about the people who don't have anything?"


Brian Mittge covers local government for The Chronicle. He may be reached by e-mail at, or by telephoning 807-8237.

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