Guest column: Urban Growth Areas have given us green spaces, rural atmosphere

By Duane Johnson

Snoqualmie Resident

The Urban Growth Area, better known as the UGA, is an area contiguous with a city that has been designated for urban growth. Land outside of the UGA is designated to remain rural. The idea was to develop a thoughtful and realistic plan to accommodate anticipated growth in a manner that would promote balanced, healthy communities and preserve rural lands.

It has worked. Less than 2 percent of all land in our State falls within the UGA. UGA’s are designed to preserve the local areas natural beauty and maintain the “rural atmosphere” by preventing urban sprawl into green forested areas.

The city of Snoqualmie, King County and the State of Washington have all agreed where those UGA’s should be located for future planned development. Location of a UGA is not a process that was taken lightly or crafted overnight by the governing bodies making the decision for the boundaries of the UGA.

In fact, designation of Snoqualmie’s UGA began in the mid-1990s. The process was well thought out and intensely studied. There were many public meetings, with citizens and stakeholder input considered before the UGA was finally approved and adopted.

Another important role of UGA’s is accommodating growth under the state’s Growth Management Act. UGA’s enable cities to plan for growth at densities and in locations that support the efficient provision of urban services. With the UGA in place, small cities like Snoqualmie and large cities like Bellevue and Seattle each will take their share of population growth. The UGA’s and related comprehensive planning processes have enabled cities to plan for growth in a manner that is thoughtful and balanced.

The UGA also is very difficult to expand or modify in any way once it is established. For example, the city of Snoqualmie has attempted several times to expand the existing UGA to include the area North of I-90 and Highway 18. The city’s request has been repeatedly denied, even though it was appealed all the way to Superior Court of Washington. Instead, the courts ruled that existing land within the current Snoqualmie UGA should be developed as intended.

Snoqualmie Ridge is an example of a dense urban master-planned development within the UGA. This could have instead evolved from the clear-cut tree farm that was its prior use and perhaps would have been developed into 5- or 10-acre lots with a mix of single-family homes.

Instead, Snoqualmie Ridge is a very nice place for families and all of us to enjoy. It also will continue to be a great neighborhood, partly because the existing UGA’s will help preserve the rural areas of our State outside the current UGA boundary.

We should not be surprised by plans to develop within the UGA. Instead, we should be thankful that we are adhering to a plan that is protecting the tremendous natural areas surrounding our city.

Duane Johnson is a Snoqualmie resident, who served on the Snoqualmie Planning Commission during the annexation of Snoqualmie Ridge and the development of the Snoqualmie Ridge Mixed Use Final Plan. He also owns property in the Snoqualmie Hills West UGA, currently being considered for development of an 800-home age-restricted community, proposed by Snoqualmie Heights Partners.