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North Bend angry over rezoning efforts

NORTH BEND _ North Bend officials have rallied against a

King County councilman's plan to change the zoning of 130 acres of

unincorporated county land near the city to allow higher density housing.

Under King County Comprehensive Plan amendments sponsored

by Councilman Chris Vance, who represents the Kent and Auburn district,

the land would be rezoned from Forest Production and RA-10

classifications to RA-5, meaning one house could

be built on every five acres of land.

"The amendment would add a very small number of houses to

the very edge of North Bend," Vance said.

The change in zoning would occur on two parcels. One is

approximately 80 acres along the south side of Interstate 90, which is

currently zoned RA-10, or one house per 10 acres. The other 50 acres lie nearby

in an area zoned Forest Production District (FPD), uphill from the

Forster Woods development. The properties belong to the Yerkes and Zemp

families, respectively.

The Metropolitan King County Council has been working on

amendments to its comprehensive plan, a document that guides all land use

and development for unincorporated King County. Every four years, starting

this year, the plan is reviewed and changes are added, as necessary. Council

members sponsor amendments to the plan.

It is still up in the air whether the amendments featuring the two

rural Valley parcels will be formally introduced at next week's public

hearing on the comprehensive plan.

Even with that uncertainty, North Bend officials have taken measures

to voice their collective opinion on the matter.

"These are properties that will dramatically increase traffic,

stormwater and flooding impacts on North Bend due to the existing road system

and the topography of the land," said North Bend Councilman Mark Sollitto.

The North Bend City Council passed a resolution in September

stating its opposition to the rezoning, which was sent to the County

Council.

North Bend's document states that both properties, if developed,

would present erosion, landslide and flooding risks, as well as cause traffic

impacts at I-90's Exit 31, the intersection that potential residents would

use. It reports that city officials would end up dealing with the impacts from

a county decision that was beyond their control.

Another point of contention for city officials is that one of the

properties is classified as "forest

production" — a permanent classification —

and the other is next to a forest-production area.

"I am against changing the decisions on the urban-growth

boundary that we made six years ago," North Bend Mayor Joan Simpson

said. "Those properties have steep slopes and erosion hazards. It would be

a classic example of urban sprawl."

"We all agreed and [Chris Vance] agreed that [these properties]

should not be in our urban-growth boundary," she said. "It's completely against

the spirit and the intent of the Growth Management Act."

"The No. 1 priority in North Bend is to retain the rural character. This

is an example that flies in the face of that," Sollito added.

The Washington State Growth Management Act (GMA) governs

the amount and location of growth, especially in rural areas. Simpson

explained that the area in which the properties are located has not been

slated for growth, and is, in fact, protected by the forest-production

designation to prevent sprawl.

According to County Councilman Larry Phillips, a

forest-production designation can only be changed

with sub-zoning, a lengthy public process that he says rarely achieves

desired results for property owners.

In addition, the state's Growth Management Act limits the amount

of growth that can take place in forested areas and reports that a conflict

arises when development is constructed too close to the production areas.

According to the county's Web site, many areas could have zoning

reduced to protect rural surroundings.

"One home per 10 or 20 acre zoning is proposed to protect natural

resource lands and activities, such as farming and forestry. Residential

development at the eastern edge of the rural area brings more people

annoyed by the sights, smells, noise and truck traffic associated with farming

and forestry activities," the Web site reports.

"This development drives up the value of natural resource lands,

motivating owners to sell their land for residential uses instead of

maintaining natural resource uses. The goal is to keep rural lands near natural

resource lands in very low densities to prevent these conflicts."

Simpson said the city's move against the proposed change in

zoning for the two parcels is not directed toward the property owners,

adding that city officials had to make some difficult decisions based on what

is best for the entire community.

Forster Woods homeowners recently held a meeting to discuss

the proposed rezoning. One parcel sits directly uphill from their housing

development and is considered steep and prone to flooding. Mudslides, the

loss of wildlife habitat and traffic impacts are on the list of their worries.

Larry Stockton, community services director for the city of

North Bend, said that when a hill is cut into and trees are taken out for

development, flooding and erosion could result. He added that he, too, is

against the rezoning.

"Up-zoning property in an area that is prone to flooding is

contradictory," he said. "Why up-zone a

piece of land when facilitating rural growth would make the [flooding] a

problem?"

However, Vance sponsored the amendments because the

property owners came to him with the idea.

"This is not something that the Zemps are trying to sneak

through," he said. "What the Zemp family

representative (lobbyist Martin Durkan Jr.) proposed to me is the sort of

deal the county does all of the time — to develop one parcel of land in

exchange for open space." According to the

proposed amendment, in exchange for the change in zoning, the Zemp

family would possibly provide access through the land to the

Rattlesnake Mountain Natural Conservancy Area.

The Zemp family was unavailable for comment.

"We don't need to consult with the city with what happens in

unincorporated King County," Vance added. "The right thing to do is talk with

the city, which we are right now."

However, Vance believes his amendments do not have enough

support to pass at this time, and he might not introduce them at the

County Council's Nov. 13 meeting concerning the comprehensive plan.

Councilman David Irons Jr. said any council member could

introduce an amendment up until the end of the hearing.

Larry Phillips, county councilman and chair of the Natural

Resources Committee, also opposes the proposed zoning changes.

"Our existing comprehensive plan lays out specifically what can

happen with forest-production areas," he

said. "This [amendment] is what's called `spot zoning' and is completely

contrary to our existing comp plan."

Phillips helped write the original Growth Management Act and

believes the document has a purpose of keeping development in check and

preventing rural sprawl.

"Our zoning should be consistent with our policy," he said.

County Councilmen Rob McKenna and Kent Pullen were

also involved in the proposals, co-sponsoring the amendments with Vance.

Irons, who represents the Valley, does not support the effort to

rezone and wasn't aware of the amendments until North Bend residents began

to contact him on the matter.

"I haven't heard anything [with the two amendments that] I would

support at this time," he said, adding that

it would have been courteous for the other council members to run the

proposed amendments by him, since they affect his district.

King County Executive Ron Sims's staff has also been

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