Proposed county ordinance already drawing disdain

By: Ben Cape
Snoqualmie Record Online

June 03, 2004

SRO Editor's note: The Critical Areas Ordinance is an in-depth, constantly changing plan. This series is not intended to flush out every nuance of the plan, but rather present Valley residents with an overview of the points that will most likely affect them directly. To view a copy of the plan, please visit

SNOQUALMIE VALLEY, WA - While there is still a lot to be figured out regarding the final version of King County's Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO), there is plenty of firm opinion about the proposal.

King County is developing the ordinance that would set new regulations on development and clearing land in the county's unincorporated areas. The ordinance is set to go before the Metropolitan King County Council this summer and be approved by Dec. 1.

In the meantime many people in and out of the Valley have formed strong opinions about the ordinance. The ordinance's authors and supporters claim additional regulations are needed to protect rural areas in the county, much of which is unincorporated. Opponents have mentioned that the new regulations are unprecedented restrictions to private property and are basically trying to fix what is not broken.

"I don't think anybody has made the case that stricter requirements are needed," said Metropolitan King County Councilman Steve Hammond.
Property owners have said some of the regulations would leave their land basically worthless. With additional restrictions on what can be done on one's property, and buffers increasing to a much as three times their current size, the CAO has land owners crying foul.

John Day, a home builder who owns John Day Homes in North said he has worked around the already restrictive King County building regulations. One part of the proposed CAO that would require all new clearings of land to leave 65 percent of their native vegetation is already in effect in some parts of the county and Day said he has learned to live with it. But additional requirements would bring development to a halt. While arguments have been made that the CAO would help land appreciate, Day said land that can not be developed is worthless.

"If you have a Category 1 wetland [which would require 300-foot buffers under the proposed CAO] going down the middle of a five-acre plot of land, you would not have any usable land," he said.

Supporters have said, though, that while there are increased regulations under the CAO, it is not as cataclysmic as some may believe. Following initial public meetings regarding the proposed ordinance, supporters have said there is a lot of misinformation about it. There are allowed uses and exemptions in the sensitive areas.

"Opposition comes from a scant knowledge of the ordinance," said John Healy, spokesman for 1,000 Friends of Washington. "This [the CAO] really is common sense."

A stewardship plan the county is offering could allow some of the regulations to be bent a little if a landowner comes up with an overall plan for their land that is deemed beneficial to the rural area by the county. Residents are saying developing and paying for such a plan would be too much of a burden for not only landowners, but for the county to administer as well.

"That's what they said about SEPA [State Environmental Policy Act] and it wasn't," Day said. "It [ease of complying with regulations] is as easy as the attitude on the other side [King County government]."
Some Valley residents are saying that the county is picking the wrong area to regulate.

Chris Breeds, a public and civic engineer who is president of SubTerra, Inc. in North Bend, said that if the county is looking to clean up the environment, it should be looking at the urban area, which would actually have fewer regulations than rural areas under the CAO. Breeds' office did an informal study of polluters based on a series of stories done by The Seattle Post-Intelligencer about water pollution called "Our Troubled Sound." Breeds found that the major offenders where urban based, not rural based.
"Their [King County] fundamental basis [for the CAO] is flawed and wrong," Breeds said.

According to some of the proposed ordinance's supporters, the CAO is a move in the right direction since the county's water is all inter-connected and cleaning it up is a burden shared by all.

John Mauro, director of the Livable Communities Coalition, said the CAO would not only help clean up the environment, it also would be cost effective. Since all polluted water has to be treated, ensuring the purity of water would prevent the county from costly treatments, costs that everyone pays no matter where they live.

"Why pay for expensive stormwater plants to treat water when you can keep some vegetation and have nature do it for free?" he said.

Cities also are taking a hard look at what the county is developing. Although the CAO would not affect incorporated cities, it could influence how municipalities develop their own critical area ordinances, which they are required to do. Snoqualmie Mayor Fuzzy Fletcher said the city has started to work on its own critical areas ordinance, but he doubts it will be as restrictive as the county's.

"There is a lot of apprehension on my part," he said

He said one of the challenges the city and City Council will be facing is deciphering "best available science," the term used to describe the studies that influenced all the county's recommendations. Fletcher said the city has been given stacks of definitions and citations that are meant to explain what best available science is and how it should affect decisions.

The sheer amount of information for the CAO and its supporting documents is a problem, Hammond said. With so much information, he feels the supporters of the CAO are trying to push it through without explaining the supporting science.

"They want to get it passed before budget season [this fall]," Hammond said.

Larger questions are not only asked about science, but about society as well. Both sides have opinions on what is fair to ask of the other.
"You have rights but you also have to serve the common good," said Healy. "These guys on the right wing who thump their Constitutions need to remember that...We all have a responsibility to take care of the land."
Some landowners in the Valley question, however, whose rights may be taken away for someone else's concept of responsibility. If it is true that some things must be lost to care for the environment, some are wondering if they have to give up all they have worked for and invested in as well.
"I would guess that thousands of people are not going to be able to sell their land [if the CAO passes]," Day said.

For more information about the CAO, visit the King County Web site at

Fletcher encouraged the public to come to a special City Council meeting on Monday, June 21 when the city will be able to give the public more information on what the city is doing with its own critical area's ordinance.

©Snoqualmie Valley Record 2004



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