County not being fair with new regulations

Guest Column

The King County Executive has transmitted a second draft of the proposed Critical Areas Ordinance and Amendments to the Comprehensive Plan for County Council review and approval. The Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES) has failed to identify an approach that would garner citizen support for extraordinary regulation of private land. DDES believes it can substitute highly structured “incentive” scams for mandatory property tax relief.

DDES does not comprehend the distinction in legislative intent between the principles that predicate the application of an incentive or a regulation. The purpose of an incentive is to create the right condition to encourage public participation with an optional governmental program. The purpose of a regulation is to compel public compliance with government agency rules.

The mechanism and term DDES should be looking for, but can’t seem to find, is “regulatory fairness.” Regulatory fairness is a concept that is cognizant of the relationship between land taxation and property regulations, which declare some types of private property, or portions thereof, undevelopable open space. DDES’s mixing and mingling of these two concepts (incentive vs. regulation) is beyond the legislative intent of both incentives, like the Public Benefit Rating System (PBRS), and regulations, like the soon to be replaced Sensitive Areas Ordinance (SAO).

PBRS is based on the condition an applicant will provide benefits beyond the requirements of the land use code. SAO is based on the requirement that a property owner must maintain minimum compliance with the code. If applied in accordance with existing law, regulatory fairness would reduce the amount of taxes paid for land that cannot be developed because of use restriction regulations.

The executive is now proposing that affected citizens may be eligible to receive a property tax reduction upon county acceptance of a “Rural Stewardship Plan.” However, that additional burden is also unnecessary. DDES and the assessor are familiar with the laws, policies and ordinances, and have the necessary information at hand to implement regulatory fairness. Also, King County knows implementing the property tax assessment laws, policies and ordinances that provide equity would have no ascertainable overall effect on county revenue.

There is a growing dissatisfaction among rural and unincorporated area property owners with a government that allows the assessor to continue to act in disobedience of state and local legislative enactments that reduce property tax burdens. Actions taken absent regulatory fairness could be found to lack legitimacy. King County and Washington State legislation prescribes specific steps to be taken by regulators and assessors after adopting codes restricting the “use” of “private” land. Implementation of the laws already in place would initiate a true partnership with land owners, better secure public trust and galvanize public cooperation in the environmental recovery effort.

Over a year ago I was encouraged to hear a meeting hosted by the director of DDES was planned to discuss this topic. A representative of the King County Assessor’s Office was to attend and participate in this meeting. However, it was postponed and never mentioned again.

The “best available science” is in controversy because the salmon problem has not been identified and therefore cannot be monitored (e.g.), is it in the urban area, or the rural; is it out in the sea, near the shore, or inland upstream? Which of these areas looks more degraded to you?

No matter what the reasoning is, or what the actual effect is, environmental restrictions preclude improvements from occurring in protected areas creating open space. This diminishes any likelihood (expectation) the use for which the property is zoned will ever reach its “highest best use” based on “comparable sales” given when a property was developed (e.g.) conforming or nonconforming, the type of sensitive area and how the property is situated respective to any protected feature, such as a river or wetland.

Because the “best available science” under SAO has failed, King County (DDES) needs to do research and experimentation on private property to develop the right “technology.” The result, in theory, may or may not preserve all unique or “irreplaceable environmental qualities and functions” for wet and/or upland biological communities.

Nonetheless, state and local legislatures have anticipated problems and provide concepts and enactments that provide equitable property tax relief, yet the assessor and executive do not respond. Comprehensive plan Policy E-106 details the method that should be employed during the assessment of encumbered land.

This amendment to the Comprehensive Plan was passed by a 10 to 1 majority of the King County Council on Feb. 20, 2001, under the sponsorship of David Irons representing Council District 12, and supported by Louise Miller, who represents Council District 3. The amendment was designed to again remind the King County assessor that it is necessary and equitable to account for the restriction on private land that serve a public interest and preclude development. King County has not attempted to implement it, or regulatory fairness. DDES doesn’t need to re-invent the wheel by eradicating and/or derailing in-place legal doctrine.

Snoqualmie Valley resident Paul Carkeek owns Eco-Site. He is a land-use consultant specializing in government operations. He can be reached at (425) 445-5662.