New strategies for taking
overlay the Critical Areas Code
by Sue Forde
Clallam County, WA January 2001– While citizens were busy with the
Christmas holidays, the County Commissioners were busy, too – passing the
“Equity in Stewardship: Strategies for Protecting Critical Areas in Clallam
“Equity in Stewardship” may sound innocuous, but it’s
far from it. The document offers
strategies for acquisition of land in Clallam County – taking it out of
private ownership, and placing it into “public” ownership or control.
The methods offered in the new plan include more taxes,
monitoring for activities which don’t “comply” with the regulations and
rules now in place through the Critical Areas Code and other ordinances, and
helping landowners make the “choice” to give up conservation easements on
The “Strategies” come as a result of the Governor’s
Salmon Recovery Office grant (which is your tax money being used against you,
made to sound nice). Clallam County
received money to “formulate policy for programs and strategies regarding the
acquisition of property or property rights.”
We’ve heard that the U.S. Constitution prohibits
“taking” without just compensation – this document states that the “4(d)
rule derives from a section of the ESA [Endangered Species Act] that
“prohibits the ‘taking’ or harming, of protected wild salmon stocks or
their habitat.” Several species
of salmon are “protected” in Clallam County. (See Sidebar – Questions
The County intends, according to the Strategies, to
“prevent or remove…inappropriate development in critical habitat areas”.
Critical areas in Clallam County cover more than ½ of the entire county!
Is your property affected? It
doesn’t matter, because all property will be subject to the possibility
of increased levies and taxes, according to the document.
The programs “allow County residents more freedom to
choose the types of activities that occur on private property.
They may choose an activity that is not considered the ‘highest and
best use’ (the potential land use in an area designated by zoning) of that
land with no fear of a disproportionate tax burden.
A residential property owner may choose to designate property as open
space, and the property taxes can be reduced based on the need for less
What kind of “freedom” is this? Freedom means using your own land the way you choose – and
most landowners are quite capable of taking care of their land in a manner that
does not harm the environment. The
meaning of “freedom” has been changed here – to mean that you are
“free” to do what the unelected bureaucrats say you can do – no more, no
less. Further, the fee to place
property into “open space” has gone from $30 to $300!
Now that’s freedom – to pay for the privilege of owning your own
“Acquisition of conservation easements applies this same
philosophy of freedom in land management into the future.
Conservation easements provide the landowner with equity and certainty in
perpetuity, and encourage land uses that the public deems beneficial.”
The unelected bureaucrats and the land trusts, in partnership, will
“manage” the easement you give them. They
will, according to the Strategy document, monitor your property to make sure you
aren’t using the easement for anything other than use – and most frequently,
it becomes land that cannot be used at all.
This is FOREVER (in perpetuity). One
of many drawbacks here is the reduction of value in the land itself – the
reduced ability of saleability (who wants to purchase a piece of property where
only part of it can be used?), and the payment of taxes on a property that in
effect belongs to the “state”.
A conservation easement will “protect” the land “from
development”. Conservation easements in Clallam County are given to the North
Olympic Land Trust for ownership and management.
How will the county get the money for these land takings?
One option offered in the Strategies is the use of Conservation Futures
Levies – a new property tax that is already being used in several counties
across Washington. This new tax
would generate an estimated $237,500 per year for the county to use in buying up
even more property.
Each time a property is taken from the private sector into
the public sector, tax income for that property is gone.
That means the taxes for the remaining properties in the private sector
must be taxed at an even higher rate, to cover the costs of government.
Property owners are then being taxed twice in this particular instance
– once for the levy to help the county buy up more land, and again for a
higher tax to make up the difference for land now in the “public” domain.
The steps to be taken are clearly written in the Strategy.
county should “inventory and prioritize critical areas countywide…”
county should establish an “acquisition fund”. Properties that have been “taken” for nonpayment of
property tax should be kept, instead of being put back into the private
sector through auction. Properties
received through donations should be transferred to a “suitable
organization” – ie the North Olympic Land Trust (NOLT).
county should develop a “public outreach” program for the existing
Clallam County Current Use Taxation (CUT).
The CUT program deals with placing land into the “Open Space”
category, which means the landowner agrees to leave the property idle.
There are reduced taxes for this option; however the filing fee
increased from $30 to $300 on Jan. 1, 2000, which makes for a costly
county should review the zoning code and revise the existing Transfer of
Development Rights (TDR) and Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) programs.
So far, there has not been any activity in these areas, due to the
cumbersome nature of the rules.