Case of CAO doing more harm than good

Letter to the Editor.

My wife and I live in a modified mobile home on 5.6 acres near Ames Lake. Under King County’s proposed Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO), the wetland buffers on two seasonal ponds on our largely undeveloped wooded lot will increase from 50 feet to 200 feet. This becomes a dream-wrecker for us as we had intended to build our future home here and raise a family.

Abiding by the CAO will force us to build on a slope with difficult street access and do more harm to the ecosystem than we had intended. It will increase building and permitting costs while lowering our property value. We’ll own a new home on 5.6 acres, yet not have room for a level yard for children to play in or easy access for emergency vehicles.

We’ve had detailed discussions with representatives of DDES at King County and feel we are well informed about the “nuts and bolts” of the ordinance. Unfortunately, the likely impact on our land value and construction costs will be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

One comment from the county was that they “do not agree that property owners have an inherent right to see their property values go up at some guaranteed rate.” They recommend that we view our property as we would any other investment that can be impacted by outside factors, including regulations. While we appreciate the candor, we view this as insensitive to rural property owners.

This debate has been highlighted as a battle between property-rights activists vs. urban environmentalists. We are also environmentalists and want to do what’s right for our situation and agree in principle with the goals of the CAO. However, real attention needs to be given to the minority of King County property owners who will be financially impacted – in some cases devastated – by these regulations. Should this be decided by a county government whose constituency is 90-percent urban?

A strong step in the right direction would be for King County to move away from a full-cost recovery model that requires property owners to pay for the engineering and permitting services provided by the county. For homeowners like us, incurring these fees on top of land-use restrictions is a double penalty.

We also strongly encourage the King County Council to replace the one-size-fits-all regulatory approach with an incentive-based system with measurable goals. Five years from now if these goals are not being met, then there will be basis for investigating a regulatory approach after getting real input from rural homeowners. Thank you.

Arie van der Hoeven

Ames Lake