Legal Issues Still Surround Growth Plan

By Christopher Dunagan
Kitsap Sun

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Kitsap County, WA - Kitsap County needs to take steps to encourage more growth in urban areas and less in rural areas, the Washington State Court of Appeals has ruled.

But the ruling may have little effect, because a recent update to the county comprehensive plan resolves the concerns, county officials say.

The case grew out of an appeal filed in 2004 by Futurewise, Kitsap Citizens for Responsible Planning and residents Rick Biarnson and Jerry Harless. They argued that the county was expanding urban growth areas without first trying to accommodate growth within existing areas.

The case was first heard by the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board, which is charged with upholding provisions of the state's Growth Management Act. When the appeal was filed, the county had established a goal of putting 83 percent of growth in urban areas.

The hearings board ruled that the county needed to adopt "reasonable measures," or steps that shift growth from rural to urban areas. County officials then adopted a list of reasonable measures, such as encouraging multifamily housing, mixed-use development and transportation access between homes and jobs. But opponents complained that these were measures the county already was using unsuccessfully.

The hearings board decided that the measures were enough to meet requirements of the Growth Management Act. But a superior court judge did not agree, so the matter moved to the State Court of Appeals. There, in a ruling issued Wednesday, a three-judge panel said the county needs to adopt additional measures.

Meanwhile, at the end of last year, Kitsap County adopted a "10-year update" to its comprehensive plan.

Deputy prosecutor Shelley Kneip said she believes reasonable measures in that plan will address the court's concerns. Measures include a greater variety of legal lot sizes to attract more developments and an allowance for small sewage-treatment plants where large sewers are impractical.

"The reasonable measures that were evaluated by the courts and the growth board are entirely different from what we have adopted now," Kneip said.

Keith Scully, legal director for Futurewise, said his group is likely to argue that the county still has not done enough to shift growth patterns.

The issue will return to the Growth Management Hearings Board.

Ironically, the county won a legal battle that is now meaningless. The county is not required to complete its update to the comprehensive plan until 2008 — 10 years after adoption of a valid plan. So the county completed the work two years ahead of time. The hearings board said the plan should have been done in 2004, the 10th anniversary of the original deadline.

Meanwhile, the county's update to the comprehensive plan has been appealed by the Suquamish Tribe, Kitsap Citizens for Responsible Planning and Jerry Harless. A hearing in that case is scheduled before the Growth Hearings Board on June 28.



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