Forum addresses proposed rural code changes

Growth Management Act loophole or small step toward preserving rural vitality? How one sees proposed revisions in King County law - designed to give rural businesses more flexibility - depends on interpretation.

Either way, county officials want to receive comment on the proposed changes by Aug. 10. The county hosted several forums in recent weeks explaining the revisions, including one at the Preston Community Center Tuesday, July 25. Seventeen people, in addition to county staff, attended the meeting.

"Please let us know the good, the bad and the ugly," said Julia Larson, coordinator for the Rural Economic Strategies.

And that's just what the attendees did. Folks queried the county agents about specific details of the proposed changes. Several of the changes are a result of direction from the Metropolitan King County Council's Growth Management and Natural Resources Committee and others are from public feedback to the county's Rural Economic Strategies Report.

The changes are designed to expand economic opportunities for rural residents and promote rural economic vitality.

They include provisions such as increasing the square footage allowed for nurseries, agricultural product sales, wineries and breweries without a conditional use permit, increasing the number of agricultural workers allowed on property, recognizing businesses like dog daycares, increasing the number and size of vehicles allowed on a site, removing landscaping requirements for outdoor storage, allowing for drop-in customers rather than by appointment only and allowing forest thinning in critical area buffers for forest health.

Ken Konigsmark of Preston - who signed in as a representative of Rural Majority, an Issaquah-based organization that seeks to prevent urban growth in rural areas - said the changes amounted to a loophole to the state Growth Management Act. County zoning calls for rural residential land, not commercial use, he said.

"You're going to affect your neighbors," Konigsmark said.

Allowing retail businesses like wineries and breweries with no locally-grown grapes or hops is not in line with rural character, he said. Not restricting nuisance activities is likewise unfair to neighbors who wish to live in the quiet of rural areas, Konigsmark said.

Tom Bernard of Preston countered that the only way to keep rural areas from becoming suburban bedroom communities is to encourage more economic uses.

"To save the rural area we need to encourage and support rural uses; rural businesses mixed with open land and avoid tight, all-controlling urban-type rules," he said.

Paul Carkeek of Preston said the proposed changes are a small step in the right direction but they fall far short of the state's definition of rural character, which encourages traditional rural businesses as part of rural character.

If that isn't done, what's left is suburban estates, the county's former zoning for many rural areas, which didn't allow many traditional agricultural or forestry practices.

"The rural area [zoning designation] by definition is not rural or suburban estates, but that is what's happening," said Richard Bonewitz of Maple Valley, chairman of the Greater Maple Valley Area Council, a community advisory group to governmental agencies, primarily King County.

When government tries to control too strictly what a property owner in rural areas may do, the end result is an end of traditional uses and a switch to high-priced homes and properties, he said.

Larry Martin of Redmond said he is concerned that a provision to allow nursery and garden supply stores to have unlimited square footage, if they are located in a building at least five years old, would encourage major retail centers to move into rural areas.

Paul Reitenbach of the Department of Development and Economic Services in Renton said the idea was to allow that type of business to operate in old barns or similar existing rural buildings.

Proposed rural code changes

* Increase the square footage permitted for wineries and breweries without a conditional use permit;

* Increase the amount of agricultural worker housing allowed on agricultural zoned property;

* Recognize the increasing interest in animal specialty services, such as dog day cares;

* Increase the square footage permitted for agricultural product sales without a conditional use permit;

* Increase the square footage allowed for nurseries without a conditional use permit;

* Increase from one to three the number of nonresident employees allowed on site;

* Allow drop-in patrons - no longer by appointment only;

* Increase the number and size of vehicles allowed on a site (depending on lot size);

* Remove landscaping requirement for outdoor storage; and

* Allow forest thinning in critical area buffers to maintain forest health, if identified in a forest management plan, without a six-year development moratorium.

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