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County's flexibility is just window dressing
It would be great if the letter and environmentalists' quotes about King County's Critical Areas Ordinance in the June 2 Record were accurate. It would be great if the "flexibility" allowed under rural stewardship and farm plans were as portrayed.
But let readers be the judge of that so-called flexibility, as set out in the draft county Rural Stewardship Planning Administrative Rule's eight rural stewardship critical areas goals:
"1. Avoid impacts ... by not taking previously planned action;
2. Exceed the goal ... to protect existing functions and values of critical areas;
3. If there is potential to affect more than one category of (critical areas) ... impacts to the highest category ... should be avoided;
4. Locate development activities as far from surface drainage paths as possible;
5. Minimize impacts by ... relocating, redesigning ... an action;
6. Restore or enhance critical areas or critical area buffers ...;
7. Eliminating impacts [by] implementing best management practices and meeting performance standards during the life of the development; and
8. Monitor the effectiveness ... and implement additional practices through adaptive management to restore critical area functions when necessary."
Farm and rural stewardship plans must achieve all goals and they must be recorded against property titles. There is no cutoff time. (So future owners can be bound by "adaptive management" to restore/enhance, say, wildlife habitat into perpetuity. And no way will owners be able to locate their homes within sight of their waterways.)
In the designated rural area - which is only 15 percent of the county as compared to over 60 percent of the county in the designated forest production district - the so-called "flexibility" is merely window dressing to achieve the county's lockup goals via a different route.
It's also important to note that the tax advantages of the Public Benefit Rating System are available only to those properties that "go beyond" the requirements of county regulatory requirements.
Existing agriculture in the designated agriculture production district does have grandfathered status that the rural area does not have. However, even in the agriculture district, expansion of agriculture into previously uncleared areas is subject to the critical areas rules.