Rodney McFarland’s Dec. 8 commentary on King County’s Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) contains several inaccuracies. It is way past time to correct the record and bring some light to this matter.
CAO opponents frequently claim that the ordinances will keep rural residents from using 65 percent of their property. The CAO does prohibit the future clear cutting of up to half a rural residential property for the purpose of converting a forest to lawn. But rural property owners can still grow crops, keep horses, harvest timber and clear brush. And one reason for keeping an existing forest cover is simple; a forest helps return more and better water to aquifers that provide drinking water for 30 percent of King County’s population and almost 90 percent of residents of unincorporated rural areas.
We all need to remember that these measures are not only about what you can do on your property, they are also about what your neighbors do on theirs that could harm or reduce your well water, create flooding on your property, or cause your trees to blow down because of nearby clear-cuts.
For rural folks like my family who depend on private wells, it is the amount and purity of that water that makes rural life possible. Short supplies or polluted water resulting from overdeveloped nearby land will require installation of city-style water lines. Water lines create sewage lines and as surely as night follows day, you soon find yourself with an urban housing density to pay for these improvements. Destroying beneficial groundcover, forests and wetland buffers is a thin-edge-of-the-wedge tactic developers use to get urban sprawl started in rural areas like ours. Allow tactics like this to take root and you open a losing argument with developers about what is left to save in an increasingly compromised land – your land and my land.
Opponents of the CAO never mention the ways the ordinances actually help rural property owners. It lets them use a farm or stewardship plan to develop site-specific options for their property. Both plans are free and come with assistance from King County and the King Conservation District. Most folks I know have found these programs to be of actual value and not heavy-handed as the CAO opponents claim.
Opponents also avoid mentioning that property owners will still be able to build on most lots, only stopped when real serious safety concerns are involved that only fools would ignore. The CAO even ensures that owners of lots less than 20 acres can subdivide their property into the number of lots allowed under the zoning code, even if this means buffers have to be reduced.
Because rural residences have less impact on wetlands than commercial development or schools, the CAO can apply smaller buffers to rural residences. And with a rural stewardship plan, the buffers can be even smaller. With a farm plan, there are no prescriptive buffers. The CAO uses these adjustment techniques to create a plan that is hand-crafted to each site.
King County is taking legal action to block the CAO referendum effort simply because it is a waste of yours and my hard-earned tax dollars. The state Supreme Court has already twice ruled that measures like the CAO are not subject to the referendum power. Holding an election will cost up to $500,000 for no purpose. It would be a scandal if King County did not move pre-emptively to save our money from this wasteful action.
The CAO was not drafted secretly in the dark of night to injure rural property owners. The CAO is all about protecting rural areas to make sure they continue to be the kind of places in which people want to live and work. I believe we rural landowners will take those actions necessary to preserve both the environment and the quality of life for all to share. And the first step on that path is to set the record straight as to what the CAO is really about.