Property rights group wants say in land use issues
June 25, 2014
As Wahkiakum County moves into updating its shoreline and land use ordinances, one may be certain there will be vigorous public input.
Two members of the Wahkiakum County Real Property Rights Advisory Board questioned the county board of commissioners Tuesday about plans and processes.
County commissioners formed the committee three years ago when a group of citizens objected to including the county in a proposed national heritage area. The board is charged with advising the board of commissioners on issues affecting property in the county, and so far, it has had little opportunity.
In an email letter to the commissioners, the advisory board noted that the county is embarking on updates of the Comprehensive Plan, Shoreline Master Program, Critical Areas Ordinance, and Watershed Plan (Editor's note: The watershed plan update concerned the Cowlitz River basin, and commissioners from counties in the regional watershed group approved those amendments last week).
"Question," the advisory board asked, "Why haven't the commissioners asked us to advise them regarding these subjects? Each is planned to be discussed and ultimately decided upon, and it seems a momentum is in place to move forward. We would be happy to review these subjects and advise the board."
"Why aren't we being involved," asked advisory board Chair Doug Silver.
The answer to that question, Commissioners Dan Cothren and Blair Brady responded, is that the process is just getting started. As the process develops, there will be opportunity for comment, they said.
Silver and advisory board member Chuck Hendrickson said they hope the county will resist pressure to place more restrictions on the use of private property. If possible, they said, the county should opt out of having a comprehensive land use plan.
"This county is not anything like King or even Cowlitz where plans such as this are required, constantly updated, and worshiped by the land use bureaucracies that embrace this type of regulatory morass," the email letter said. "Perhaps the issue of the Comprehensive Plan can even be removed from further discussion given past decisions to proactively ignore this concept."
Cothren and Brady responded that like the concept of limited land use controls, but by law, and for its own self determination, the county needs the ordinances.
"I said last week, the state Department of Ecology is out of control," Cothren said. "But if the county doesn't do anything, the government comes in and implements its own rules."
Building and Planning Director Chuck Beyer agreed that the county needs to develop its own ordinances, or Ecology will step in and do the work. This has happened in other counties, he said.
The land use plans and ordinances also need to reflect current laws and science, Beyer said.
Beyer added that the county is just in the inventory stage of updating the shoreline plan. An advisory committee has been formed to lead the process; it will report to the county planning commission, which is charged with handling planning issues.
The comprehensive plan process is further along; the planning commission presented a proposed update to the commission approximately six years ago. Commissioners felt the ordinance was too bulky and went through an editing process to put much of the detail in footnotes or appendices. Further action languished with a change of faces on the board of commissioners. With a review of those revisions, the amended plan could be brought up for adoption.
Hendrickson said the advisory board feels the county should just drop the comprehensive plan.
There are advantages to having updated plans, Brady commented. State and federal funding agencies require them, and the county needs that money for various services it provides.
A comprehensive plan is just advisory, Brady added.
"The planning commission put in a lot of work on the comp plan," Beyer said to the commissioners. "They're your advisory board. Comments should have come to them."
Work on the comprehensive plan will get started in August, Beyer added.