Government threatens rural lifestyle

Guest Columnist

King County is sponsoring a war on poverty in the rural area. Anyone paying the slightest attention has undoubtedly noticed there are more than residential uses occurring on rural home sites. Trucks, equipment and materials used in a variety of trades are frequently observed.

Current regulations do not support rural activities associated with “family-wage jobs.” King County does not want businesses to operate from residential properties if more than one non-resident is employed and/or if a vehicle capable of over 1 ton of capacity is kept on the lot.

Great hardship is being felt by some “busted” rural business owners while other competitive businesses remain open, but threatened. These trades and businesses are generally licensed by the state of Washington to do business on property zoned rural residential. Regardless of the fact rural land has been used in this manner for decades, you will no longer be able to support your family or your employee’s families on the land you own as your father did.

Last year I asked the executive technical staff to look into this problem. Without hesitation, the reply from planning and technical staff was: The county should not legalize something which is inherently illegal. Evidently, technical planning staff believes the rural area is messy and needs to be cleaned up. Large-scale social engineering vis-ˆ-vis zoning restrictions and soaring property taxes result in all the white eggs being separated from the brown eggs, and in your case, the ones which cannot be easily identified are discarded.

The Growth Management Act (GMA) requires protection of you, your rural lifestyle and the rural economy. Councilman David Irons is attempting to provide protection of rural family-wage incomes. During the 2001 update of the King County comprehensive plan, Irons sponsored an amendment which requires a reluctant executive planning and technical staff to develop regulations in compliance with the GMA. By the end of this year, new regulations are to be developed which better protect trades and businesses in the rural area.

The traditional rural lifestyle is not neat and tidy (sanitized). The GMA recognizes a healthy rural environment is virtually a Noah’s Ark of things, people and experiences, and to function properly the rural area needs to be somewhat awkward by design. Existing development and design standards for rural trades and businesses do not comply with the GMA and are internally conflicting with other county regulations and policies designed to foster and protect “rural character.”

Traditional rural development makes a unique contribution to King County’s economy. In the Snoqualmie Valley, traditional rural land uses include: low density residential uses; farming, forestry and mineral extraction; small neighborhood churches; feed and grain stores; the keeping of horses and livestock; and businesses that are reliant upon the rural area and support local needs for public and private facilities and utilities necessary to serve and support rural homes. Rural trades and businesses support numerous rural families. Rural family businesses support and patronize rural cities, towns and neighborhood businesses who provide services and shopping for rural families. Rural businesses and trades generate a significant amount of taxable revenue.

Left to its own devices, King County planning and technical staff will create a “rural legacy,” which includes a park-like environment with massive residential development, large industrial complexes and natural-resource areas that generate an economy that leaves the rural area almost immediately. For entertainment and rural employment security, King County has been supporting local jobs at bed-and-breakfast inns, antique stores, golf courses, or at farms that have become tourist attractions, camps and retreats for bicycle-riding citizens who wish to enjoy a bucolic imitation countryside. Making beds, picking up, becoming a nanny, serving meals and/or shopkeeping is not the type of work generally observed in rural areas. It is not desirable for rural residents who need to finance families and pay the ever-rising property taxes to take jobs that pay entry-level wages.

Nothing changes in a vacuum. During the upcoming development of new regulations for rural trades and businesses, it is important for all of you who have a great deal at stake to provide input and support for this effort. If you do not fight for the right to both live and work within the rural area, you may be ordered to close up shop and/or move your business. David Irons will support your effort, however, a groundswell of support is needed to emphasize the issue. If none occurs, it will appear no problem exists, and one by one people will continue to be harassed and busted.

Are you a telephone call away from losing your family’s income? It’s happening. However, you can prevent it. Legitimate business people should not be made to feel and/or act like criminals and/or social outcasts in the communities they support. The question to be addressed is simple: Is King County protecting traditional rural lifestyles, or building a new and improved suburbia? If you are concerned, get off the stick and don’t be afraid. Any information given will not be disclosed without your permission. Believe me, there is a high-tech family eager to help you move your double-wide and turn your outbuildings into a super pony-cart barn. These are the folks who are organizing, e-mailing the executive staff and setting policy for the “New Rural Order.” Move it or lose it! Call (425) 222-5662.

Paul P. Carkeek is a consultant specializing in government operations, community and environmental defense, policy planning and land-use regulations and is a resident of the Snoqualmie Valley.