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Appeals court dumps critical areas ordinance

King County’s controversial Critical Areas Ordinance, or CAO, was struck down last week by the Washington State Court of Appeals.

The court ruled that the CAO was in violation of state law.

Enacted in Oct. 2004, the critical areas legislation was meant to protect land in unincorporated King County from flooding and erosion coming from neighboring properties, safeguard groundwater and wildlife habitat, and ensure that urban areas protect water quality and wetlands.

However, many rural landowners saw the ordinance as intrusive and unfair.

Vanessa Allen, member of the Fall City Community Association, said that many Fall City property owners are likely thrilled to see the ordinance struck down.

“It was a difficult one to swallow,” Allen said. “It was overkill.”

“I am happy to see that the Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of protecting property rights,” said County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, who represents the Valley.

“With this ruling private property no longer will be unlawfully encumbered.”

The ruling, Lambert said, will help raise discussions and awareness and define best available science about how to protect the environment.

“We need a better balance between the environment, what is scientifically proven, what protects farming, and our citizens’ property rights,” she said.

Meanwhile, King County Executive Ron Sims is appealing the appeals court ruling in Washington Supreme Court.

Sims said the court decision is not consistent with long-standing standards for how local governments regulate land use and zoning.

“If this ruling stands, it will have far reaching and negative impacts on local governments’ ability to regulate land use to protect people, their property and their quality of life,” he stated. “The clearing and grading ordinance is based on scientific data that clearly shows negative impacts on people’s well water, rivers and streams and neighboring properties from excessive clearing.”

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