City loses appeal on Zemp property
October 2, 2008 · Updated 1:52 PM
NORTH BEND - Land near the Forster Woods subdivision owned by Richard and Rosanne Zemp can remain zoned as rural residential, according to the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board, which last week ruled on an appeal of amendments to the 2000 Comprehensive Plan passed this year by the Metropolitan King County Council.
The appeal was filed with the hearings board by the Forster Woods Homeowners' Association, the Friends and Neighbors of Forster Woods and the city of North Bend. City Council members agreed in April to spend up to $30,000 to fight the zoning change for Zemp's 164 acres, as well as a change in zoning for about 80 acres of land between North Bend and Snoqualmie near Interstate 90 owned by Robert Yerkes.
The petitioners fared better in their arguments against the upzoning of Yerkes' land, as the hearings board, located in Seattle, ruled ruled that the County Council's action went against the county's own land-use policies.
The hearings board announced its ruling on Tuesday, Nov. 6. The appeal of the zoning changes for the Zemps' and Yerkes' land was combined with an appeal by the Commissioner of Public Lands concerning a zoning change in the urban growth area of Maple Valley.
The County Council passed the two amendments, called "South I-90A" and "South I-90B," on Feb. 12. Former District 13 Councilman Chris Vance and District 9 Councilman Kent Pullen sponsored the Zemp amendment (South I-90B), while Vance and District 6 Councilman Rob McKenna sponsored the Yerkes amendment (South I-90A).
In passing the Zemp amendment, the County Council changed the zoning from forestry to rural residential, RA-10, or one house every 10 acres. The Zemps' property is shaped like a triangle, except for a narrow piece jutting out to the east. The land lies between the Forster Woods development, which runs along two sides of the triangle, and the Rattlesnake Mountain Scenic Area. Also touching the parcel at its northwest and southeast corners are areas zoned RA-10 and RA-5, or one house per every five acres.
Richard Zemp said he sought the change to fix an error in the land's classification. Since he bought the land in 1995, he said he has paid taxes on it as if it were designated rural residential - about $14,000 a year - but it was still zoned as forestry.
He added the zoning should have been changed when the city annexed Forster Woods.
"When the city of North Bend annexed across the freeway [I-90] and allowed the density of Forster Woods ... that surrounded my 160-acre forest zone on three sides by high urban density," he said.
The zoning change approved by the County Council affected the lower 50 acres of the Zemps' land next to Forster Woods. Development conditions included placing 25-foot buffers on property boundaries adjacent to urban areas and the keeping the remaining acres as open space and in a natural state.
According to the hearings board, the Zemps' land "no longer meets the definition of 'long-term commercial forestry,'" and that when King County acquired the Rattlesnake Mountain Scenic Area in 1997, "... this action severed the Zemp parcel from the larger pattern of private forestry uses to the south and west."
North Bend Councilman Ed Carlson said regardless of whether the Zemps' land is surrounded by urban areas, it was zoned as forest land and should therefore be treated as such.
"This decision, [the hearings board's] rationale for the decision, certainly makes no sense to me," he said. "So what if it's cut off from other forest lands?
"I think that's another technicality, and why the hearings board would want to give him the decision is beyond me," Carlson added.
In September 2000, the North Bend City Council passed an ordinance opposing the Zemp and Yerkes amendments, saying they would increase traffic on city streets as well as create erosion and landslide hazards, hurt water quality and "exacerbate flooding problems in North Bend ..." Forster Woods residents had similar concerns regarding the amendment.
"This is a huge issue. This issue of the conversion of rural resource lands to sprawling rural lots does nothing for the benefit of the small-town scale of rural character that we are so valiantly trying to preserve in North Bend," Councilman Mark Sollitto said in April.
But Zemp said those issues would be addressed when, and if, development plans are submitted.
"Those types of concerns are site-specific to an exact proposal. And it's at that time that you objectively address those site-specific issues," he said.
In turning its attention to Yerkes' 80 acres on four parcels, which had been upzoned from RA-10 to RA-5, the hearings board found the County Council violated a planning policy that says, "A residential density of one home per 10 acres shall be applied in the rural area where the predominant lot size is 10 acres or larger ..."
After looking at a map of the land surrounding Yerkes' property, the hearings board stated: "... the board concludes that the most conspicuous and prevalent lot sizes 'in the rural area' are more than 10 acres in size. Some five-acre lots exist within this rural area, however, the predominant lot size is more than 10 acres (20- and 40-acre lots)."
The city of North Bend also argued that it wasn't properly informed of the amendments, which were first introduced in August 2000. County Council members later withdrew the amendments, only to place them back before the 13-member council as it updated the comprehensive plan.
"Rather than the statutorily required 'early and continuous' public participation, the public participation on these map amendments was late and sporadic. The first, and only, public notice and hearing on the amendments occurred after they had been withdrawn from consideration. ... This fact serves only to dampen public participation, not encourage it," the city stated in its appeal.
However, the hearings board said the county had sought public comment on the 2000 Comprehensive Plan for nearly a year and provided several opportunities for residents to voice their opinions.
Carlson said the county may have followed the letter of the law in seeking input on the comprehensive plan, but not the spirit of the law.
"That means every citizen in King County has got to read the comp plan amendments in order to be informed, and I don't think that's the intent of the law," he said.
Zemp said he has not decided whether he will develop the lower 50 acres of his 164-acre parcel. Under the amendment, 16 houses could be built next to Forster Woods on three-acre lots, and he claimed the land there had less of a slope than the neighboring subdivision.
"I'm just going to let it sit for a while," he said. "But I have the legal right to do so [develop the land] now." He added that he would be willing to discuss keeping the land as open space with groups such as the Trust for Public Lands and the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, but they would have to agree to pay fair market value.
While he may have won the appeal, Zemp said he's troubled by how much the case has cost both him and the city.
"I hope common sense will prevail in the future and we can work cooperatively together," he said.
According to the hearings board ruling, the county has until Feb. 6, 2002, to change the zoning of Yerkes land back to RA-10.
You can reach Barry Rochford at (425) 888-2311, or e-mail him at email@example.com.