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County Council wants more time to review CAO

SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - Despite a letter sent by six Metropolitan King County Council members asking for more time to review the proposed Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO), the County Council is still planning to vote on the proposed document no later than December.

The July 9 letter was sent to Councilman and Growth Management and Unincorporated Areas Committee (GMUAC) Chair Dow Constantine, and claims that the time the county plans to spend on the CAO is insufficient to get proper review and testimony.

The CAO, if passed, could curtail development in the county's unincorporated areas. Supporters of the ordinance have said it would protect the rural landscape of King County from urbanization while critics have said the ordinance would put unprecedented restrictions on the rights of private property owners. The CAO, and updates to the county's Comprehensive Plan, are scheduled to be approved by Dec. 1, but could happen before the budget session in October.

Compared to the amount of time given to review and pass the county's 2000 Comprehensive Plan (294 days), the letter stated, the CAO is not getting near enough before it is processed (161 days).

"The committee chair has chosen to have public testimony limited to 20 or 30 minutes at each meeting. The information that has been sent forward with these ordinances is over 7-inches high. That is a lot for people to read and have less than 2 or 3 minutes, depending upon which meeting, to speak and explain the impacts of these regulations," said Councilwoman Kathy Lambert in an e-mail.

The letter also stated the letter-signing council members, who were Lambert, David Irons, Jane Hague, Steve Hammond, Rob McKenna and Pete von Reichbauer, represent a bulk of the county's unincorporated and rural areas.

"We believe that a decision to move forward with the Comprehensive Plan, particularly when those most affected haven't had a reasonable opportunity to be heard or have their questions answered, will serve only to alienate many citizens of this county," the letter stated.

Attached to the letter was a list of three primary areas of concern and 21 unanswered questions regarding the CAO. The areas of concern included the timeline set by the GMUAC, the fiscal impact of the ordinances and the application of best available science, the term that applies to the criterion used to determine what changes would be beneficial to the environment.

The 21 questions ranged from concerns regarding rural character to the county's Public Benefit Rating System (PBRS), which is meant to reward landowners who choose to conserve and protect their land.

Constantine sent a letter back to the council members on July 12 saying that while the council has a lot to go over regarding the CAO and changes to the county's Comprehensive Plan, there has been ample time for review and comment. The letter said the GMUAC has held a total of 18 meetings, five of which were held in rural King County, that have been attended by more than 500 people. There have also been 13 public meetings at the King County Courthouse. Those wishing to comment could also do so online, by phone or by mail.

"This extensive council review is in addition to the thousands of hours spent by executive [Ron Sims] staff in developing these proposals over 30 months prior to transmittal," Constantine said in an e-mail.

The letter also stated that under advice from the county's prosecuting attorney, the council needs to move ahead in order to follow laws regarding the state's Growth Management Act (GMA).

"The council must take action on both the Comprehensive Plan and the CAO by Dec. 1 if we are to remain in compliance with GMA," Constantine said in the letter. "Therefore, it is my intent to pursue final action according to a schedule that will allow us to meet the mandate imposed on us by the state."

Constantine later met with Irons, who is vice chair of the GMUAC, to glean the list of 21 questions down to a dozen or so that will be reviewed at this week's GMUAC meeting. The GMUAC could give the CAO to the council for its own review as early as next week.

"Over the past five months we have heard from experts, other governments, staff and hundreds of citizens. We are doing our level best to craft a set of amendments to the Executive's Critical Areas proposal based on all that we have heard, discussed and learned," said Constantine. "If we can get that done by July 27, great. If it takes longer to get it right, I'd rather get it right just the same."

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

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