Challenges to CAO remain despite referendum ruling
Snoqualmie Valley Record
January 20, 2005
SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - Despite a King County Superior Court ruling last
week that prohibited a citizen referendum of a set of development
regulations, the public and King County have not seen the end of challenges
to the much-disputed Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO).
Legal challenges remain for the CAO, which went into effect on Jan.
1. The first came from the Citizens' Alliance for Property Rights,
a citizens group that had fought the passage of the CAO by submitting
17,000 signatures to the county that it gathered in just under the
two months that followed the approval of the contentious development
regulations. The CAO has drawn the ire of rural residents and property
rights activists because of its regulations, which include requirements
that prohibit landowners from clearing any more than 35-50 percent
of their land.
Once the group of ordinances, known collectively as the CAO, were
passed in October, opponents got to work gathering signatures that
would have put the ordinances before voters sometime this year. King
County, along with two environmental groups, 1,000 Friends of Washington
and the Center for Environmental Law and Policy, filed a lawsuit blocking
the proposed referendum. A King County judge last week sided with
the county, citing a state decision that prohibits such ordinances
"This ruling ensures that our community's health and livability
will remain protected," said John Mauro, director of the Livable
Communities Coalition, in a press release following the ruling. "Throwing
out two years of good work and thousands of comments from citizens
wouldn't have just wasted taxpayer money, it would have eliminated
clean water protections and safeguards from flood and erosion damage.
And it would have canceled the myriad of development flexibilities
that the county worked hard to integrate."
The decision can be appealed within 30 days and may be heard by the
state Supreme Court.
Although the referendum push has stopped for the time being, another
legal challenge remains. The Pacific Legal Foundation, a California-based
property rights group, announced last fall it would file a lawsuit
against the county that disputed the constitutional basis of the CAO.
During the weeks that led up to the passage of the CAO, opponents
of the ordinance said the regulations would unleash a flurry of such
Sam Rodabough, a Bellevue attorney for the foundation, said he was
waiting to see what would happen with the citizen referendum before
moving forward with the foundation's lawsuit, so the compliant that
was filed in December was more of a holding action that was meant
to be with the county before any deadlines for contesting the CAO
passed. Since the referendum has been thwarted, at least temporarily,
he said the foundation will be developing the lawsuit in the next
couple of weeks by talking to and gathering more plaintiffs.
Also in December, the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors
filed a petition with the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings
Board, a regional body that handles complaints regarding the state
Growth Management Act (GMA). The county has said the GMA requires
it have a set of developments like the CAO in order to deal with growth,
but the association contests that the county is actually disobeying
the GMA by not addressing housing issues in its comprehensive plan.
Although the association's petition does not seek to overturn the
CAO, it does mention the CAO as one of the factors the county failed
to take into account when it drafted parts of its comprehensive plan
last year that deal with everything from the affordability of housing
to the stock of housing.
Michael Spence, the attorney representing the association's petition,
said the county has passed a lot of regulations that have prohibited
housing without indicating where additional housing would go.
"Where else in the county are they going to have housing?"
he said. "No one has had this kind of conversation yet."
If the hearings board sides with the association, the county may have
to go back and redraft parts of its comprehensive plan to deal with
housing issues. The hearing for the association's petition is March
31, with a May 31 deadline for a ruling.
While public and government bodies hash out the future of the CAO
and other housing issues, property owners and realtors are figuring
out how to buy and sell property in the rural areas. Their initial
assessments are grim. While property with a house already on it may
continue to appreciate, they said land with no development on it will
be all but worthless.
Chuck Doty, a realtor based out of the John L. Scott Real Estate office
in North Bend, said an undeveloped piece of riverfront property could
have been worth up to $300,000. Now, with just recreational uses allowed
on such properties, it is probably worth around $25,000.
Doty said it is sad because so many people have their financial futures
wrapped up in their property. While some of those with comfortable
pensions and retirement funds may be all right in their twilight years,
those who relied on property to help them retire or help their children
stay in the Valley may be frustrated in the coming years.
Those wanting to buy their first home may be priced out of King County
and if the real estate market becomes too hard, Doty said the rest
of the economy will suffer.
"A lot of things trickle down from the real estate business,"