Laatsch rezoning effort put on hold

When it comes to the proposed "Laatsch" property annexation

in North Bend - which actually incorporates 14 properties under

multiple owners - the battle continues to rage. To be sure, the exchanges are

polite and formal, even interspersed with occasional laughter, but it is a

battle nevertheless.

And to this point, neither side has shown a willingness to concede

victory. As a result, the passions ran high again at last Tuesday night's

North Bend City Council meeting.

As usual, the Sept. 7 gathering featured a wide range of activities,

reports and ordinance reviews on the agenda, but it was ABB99-071a, the

public hearing on the Laatsch pre-annexation, that turned out the crowd.

A total of 13 took the microphone to give their views during the

public comment period. Several invoked images of Issaquah, Snoqualmie

Ridge and - with one speaker - even Bellevue. The commentary ran

a gamut of issues, including quality of life, the peril that today's farms

face, traffic, flooding and the impact on the environment. In response, other

speakers voiced their support of both the rezoning of the property and its

ultimate annexation by North Bend.

However, in the end, the council voted unanimously to table the

question of rezoning, pending further study and discussion.

North Bend Senior Planner Mark Smith initiated some early

commentary. Following a query by a resident, he confirmed that while the

city wanted Low Density Residential (LRA) status for the property, it

could in fact contain four-to-eight houses per acre, plus a mandated percentage

of multi-family housing.

Smith later stated it was a city code requirement, but that the rumors

the property would contain some 500 apartment-type structures were

unfounded. He termed such rumors as "hysteria."

"In a subdivision of more than 10 units, 15 to 25 percent of the

homes must be multi-family," Smith commented last Friday. "The

multi-family units are under tight guidelines. The maximum you are allowed in a

low-density district is a four-plex, and it has to be on a corner lot on a

collector street."

"Typically, what you'll see is a townhouse or duplex-type unit.

There is no way you'll see single-family, single-family, single-family, and

then this massive unit."

"It should not be seen as a negative," Smith added. "We want to

create more dynamic neighborhoods with more housing opportunities, more

like traditional housing areas. The main thing to remember, though, is there

is no development proposal on the table yet. We're still under a moratorium."

Ewing Stringfellow, whose adjacent farm has been the focus of

much of the debate, brought an attorney with him to address the council. In

preparation for the meeting, the lawyer - Richard Peterson of Seattle - faxed

a letter to Mayor Simpson and the council members explaining

Stringfellow's stand.

The letter apparently arrived last Tuesday afternoon. Most of the

councilors admitted they had not had a chance to read it before meeting time.

The letter stated, in part, that "..[Stringfellow's] ranch lies in

one of only eight Rural Farm Districts designated by King County in its

Comprehensive Plan, as required by the King County-wide Planning

Policies. These are districts within the rural

area where farming is to be encouraged and expanded through incentives and

additional zoning protection.

"The proposed pre-annexation zoning on the Laatsch property for

low density residential development, and the designation of the

Buhler/Catteral property in the City's

Comprehensive plan, are incompatible with the longstanding agricultural use of

the Middle Fork S Ranch.

"What we have asked the council to do," Peterson concluded, "is

delay action on pre-annexation zoning, to allow time for the development of

negotiations, and to take into account the presence of a rural farm."

Mr. Stringfellow himself then took the podium to deliver a lengthy

statement concerning the importance of agriculture and rural life. In it he

stated farmers were the stewards of the earth, and he gave his operation as an

example of such stewardsip.

When his allotted three minutes expired, Stringfellow

summarized, "Until the city rolls up its sleeves

and goes to work rewriting its Comprehensive Plan and a Zoning Ordinance

that is consistent with the Growth Management Act, county-wide planning

policies and the King County Boundary Review guidelines, no residential

zoning nor annexation should be adopted on any land near a commercial

farm by this council."

"We'd like to be participating in the system," responded

property owner Byron Moore a few minutes later. "We're willing to take the

zoning that's in the Comprehensive Plan, and we're willing to be flexible.

"We also want to be stewards of the land, as Ewing referred to.

"People have rights," Moore continued. "We're not the bad guys

because my family has a piece of property. We didn't make the rules

we're following here tonight. We want to preserve the value of the property,

and we shouldn't be made to feel evil over it.

"We want to be part of North Bend, and we want to follow the rules."

During the subsequent discussion, councilman Jim Gildersleeve

called for an "informal poll" of the

council. He asked his counterparts if they felt the council should proceed on the

issue, or invoke a delay.

Fred Rappin responded that a lot of issues had been raised and he

felt there were reasons why the city should "step back and look at the zoning."

"A number of issues need to be addressed at this point," he said.

"It would be preferable to stand back, before we proceed. I'm not

opposed [to rezoning], but we need to look at it."

Council member Mark Solitto made similar comments, as did

Ed Carlson. Solitto's concerns revolved around the Comprehensive Plan

and how - or if - it addresses buffers and floodways.

"I would like to see everyone get together in a large room to address

the issues," he announced.

"The question for tonight is zoning," Gildersleeve responded,

"and should we approve low-density zoning. I believe the answer is yes.

"It comes down to the properties. Mr. Ewing is an honorable man,

but can we let [him] override the rights of the Laatschs and the Moores? I

believe we should go forward with action tonight."

After some final discussion, councilman Carlson moved to table the

rezoning issue. The vote passed unanimously.

"I think it was a good decision to have the council table the

rezoning discussion," Stringfellow said afterwards. "I got the feeling they were

just kind of rushing into it. There are uses for properties adjacent of farming

that can be worked out with the city, but residential development next to

farming will create a lot of problems."

As for councilman Gildersleeve, he admitted he was ready to move

forward with the rezoning issue, but voted to table the discussion for

two reasons.

"Number one, obviously there was a majority there to do it (table the

ordinance)," he stated last Friday. "Number two, I hope to change their minds.

"Tabling it was important, because it wasn't outright disapproval.

We didn't say anything about annexation, just rezoning. They are still two

different issues."

Gildersleeve added the annexation discussion was still "alive and

well," and would be discussed at the council's work session later

this month. He fully believes annexation of the Laatsch property is good

government, and right for the city of North Bend.

"Our strategic objective is to increase the density of North Bend

by moving to the east," Gildersleeve added. "That takes us out of the

floodplain, and allows home and business construction.

"There is no question that flooding and transportation are big

issues, but we'll deal with them. You've got to be consistent with your

strategic plan and vision, and that's why this annexation is so important.

Psychologically, if the council decides not to annex this time, the next one is


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