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Proposed regulations irk rural city council members

SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - Part of the proposed King County Comprehensive Plan update regarding the legal status of land lots is just one in a long list of the latest proposed policy changes that have irked several council members from the county's rural areas.

Before the Comprehensive Plan left the Growth Management and Unincorporated Areas Committee earlier this summer, an amendment was added that prohibited landowners from subdividing their land into old or original "shadow lots." Under current law, a landowner can find how their land was originally platted and develop on those original lots, a move that usually allows them to build more structures.

Therefore, developers have been approaching rural landowners who may have just one home on their land but actually have more than one plot. This has allowed smaller, more condensed neighborhoods to sprout up in rural areas that do not have the infrastructure to handle sudden bursts of development.

The problem with this, King County officials said, is that the plot lines were drawn before any current concerns regarding development were recognized. The county and citizens are unable to keep up with many of these smaller developments because they don't require the more stringent public review process that larger developments go through.

"You basically do this under the cover of dark and you can create four lots that are much smaller than all of your neighbors and then sell them off," said King County Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES) Special Projects Manager Harry Reinert. "[At the time the original lots were created] there weren't the kinds of requirements to ensure public health and safety, neighborhood concerns. There was no need to deal with traffic issues, no need to deal with water issues; none of the things that the current process is designed to ensure."

The proposed amendment would take away the legal status of lots that were plotted before June 9, 1937, when a state subdivision law went into effect; and Oct. 1, 1972, when a county subdivision law went into effect.

Councilman Steve Hammond, who has proposed his own amendment to the Comprehensive Plan that would strike the legal status section, said that while the county has portrayed the changes as just a technicality, it would add insult to injury for rural land owners when combined with other proposed land-use changes. Hammond has also opposed many parts of the county's proposed Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO), which would put stricter regulations on growth in the rural areas. He said the county is making development harder on families that do not have the time to keep up with all the different regulations the county hands down.

"You have some 'Average Joe' just trying to support his family and the county does this to him," Hammond said. "That is just wrong."

Moreover, Hammond said the county does not know exactly how many plots of land within its borders would be affected by the lot legal status changes to the Comprehensive Plan. Following some research by his staff, however, Hammond gave what he considered a conservative estimate of 10,000 plots.

Since it is proposing additional regulations, county officials have said it would make following those development regulations easier. The county announced last week that it had developed a way to streamline the permit application process by working with the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Ecology. The agencies, at the county, state and federal levels, will have a working relationship that will enable an applicant to see if their projects meet the different regulations each agency has at the same time. Before, applicants had to present their projects for a multi-agency review, a process that could be frustrating and time consuming due to different requirements.

"For example, instead of filling out rows A through C for one group and A through M for another, now you just fill out A through M once," said Paula Adams, DDES spokesperson.

Officials said the relationship between the agencies will better equip the county, and applicants, to take development regulations seriously.

"Permit applicants want to do what is right for the environment and follow the rules. Government has a responsibility, however, to make compliance as efficient and understandable as possible for permit applicants," said King County Executive Ron Sims in a press release.

Such changes are too little to make up for the damage being done by additional development regulations, according to Councilwoman Kathy Lambert. Lambert, who opposes both the lot legal status changes and the CAO, said the county will have to do a lot of work in order to get its development regulations through the rural members of the council, especially on the CAO.

"They don't want the rural part of the county to come unglued," she said.

Reinert said the proposed changes to the legal status of the lots are needed to preserve the nature of the county's rural areas. Without such a protection in place, he said the rural areas of the county would fall prey to the development pressures of the county's growing urban core.

"You are not going to get an urban subdivision in a rural area, which creates all sorts of impacts on the surrounding area," Reinert said. "I don't think it [more development] is the kind of thing people in those areas [rural] want."

The time for both the Comprehensive Plan and CAO to go before the County Council is approaching. The council will review the Comprehensive Plan and hold a public meeting at its Sept. 20 meeting. Officials hope to get the CAO decided on before the county enters its budget season in October.

* For information about the county's proposed Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) and changes to its Comprehensive Plan, visit www.metrokc.gov.

Ben Cape can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at ben.cape@valleyrecord.com.

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