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Novel development gets approval - After several appeals a cluster development planned on Old Olympic Highway is back on track

Posted on Wednesday 18 May @ 11:46:58

Sequim Gazette

Sequim, WA - It was approved by the Clallam County hearings examiner in late-February. Then the examiner's decision was appealed twice.
First, owners Dave LeRoux and Walt Johnson asked for changes in the water-use plan for houses in the development, the extent of the vegetation buffer around the housing, and lighting requirements. County planner Steve Gray said on March 28 the examiner changed the water-use plan and allowed cutbacks in the buffers.
Second, April 20, the county planning office asked the hearings examiner for clarification of some of the language in his ruling. The clarification was denied, said Gray.
When LeRoux and Johnson bought a farm west of Sequim, it was their intention to develop the land. They saw an opportunity to keep farmland in production and develop residential building lots. Their idea became the Discovery Trail Farm - eight, 1-acre single-family home lots surrounded by 50 acres of farmland. The development has plans for a paved taxiway to the Sequim Valley Airport, an adjoining property.
The cluster housing development idea is one that grew out of prior planning efforts. When the state Growth Management Act became law in 1990 it recognized special values of land. Agricultural land has value in protecting both surface water and groundwater, said Robert Caldwell, president of Friends of the Fields, a local land conservation organization.
For the Sequim area, the act was almost too late to save the farms.
Clallam County senior planner Rich James said the first meetings of a planning task force for the county were held in 1991. Committees of large and small farmers, and land developers discussed ideas about how to protect farm land.
James said the county effort was met with a situation in which many farms were already divided into 5-acre and smaller parcels. One of the first tasks of the committee was to learn how much land was viable for agricultural use. A decade ago the committee found about 10,000 acres in tracts large enough to farm, said James. And 3,500 acres were already divided into 5-acre tracts. The committee eventually recommended transferring the total number of homes to a smaller area, preserving larger areas as farmland.
Cluster developments around golf courses and airports were created before the committee. It looked at specialty zoning for agriculture for the first time. Cluster housing is a development design theoretically modeled on a small European village with small lots surrounded by farmland.
Developments like the Discovery Trail Farm are a compromise; it lets the landowners develop the same number of homes allowed under previous zoning and sets aside farmland that will be left undeveloped. The concept allows landowners to reap the economic value of their land through development and still retain farmland as required by state law. Residential lots are worth 10 times the price of an agricultural parcel.
"Cluster housing isn't the only thing that will save agricultural land in the county, it's one tool in the tool box," said Gray.
But, the cluster concept has been controversial since its first day.
Some landowners and developers continued to oppose the ordinance as too restrictive.
And a conservation organization recently filed a petition with the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board over details in the county ordinance. It said the county was not restrictive enough in its protection of farmland.

--by William Simonsen
Gazette staff writer
Published 5.18.05
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