County splits defense against noncompliance label

Clallam County hit a fork in the road after the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board labeled some of its planning noncompliant with the state’s Growth Management Act.

In one direction, the county could make an appeal to the Clallam County Superior Court. In another direction, planning staff could rewrite zoning and try to lift the label of noncompliance.

The Clallam County commissioners decided to do both.

“It’s like two trains on parallel tracks going in different directions,” senior civil deputy prosecutor Douglas Jensen said. “While my office challenges some of the outcomes of the board’s decision, the planning department will be working on making noncompliant areas of the county compliant in the eyes of the board.”

Futurewise, a growth management watchdog organization, challenged several aspects of Clallam County planning including the size of its urban growth areas, its designation of limited areas of more intense rural development, some of its zoning and the validity of Carlsborg as an urban growth area.

The Growth Management Act, passed in 1990 by the Washington Legislature, mandates higher densities in city cores or designated urban growth areas and that rural areas be without urban sprawl. The growth board found the county to be out of compliance in several areas.

The county is challenging three of the noncompliance labels. First, that some of the county’s zoning surrounding urban growth areas was too dense. Second, that it needs a police force and sewer system planned and paid for in Carlsborg for the growth area to be valid. And third, that the hearings board did not accept a motion for dismissal based on the county’s understanding that the deadline for appeals had expired before Futurewise filed with the state.

Jensen said the county will dispute the one-size-fits-all approach the board indicated the county should have taken, rather than having a one dwelling unit per 2.4 acres zone near the urban growth area and more sparse densities farther away from the boundary.

“In other words, unless land is within the urban growth area it must have at least an R5 zone,” Jensen said of the one dwelling unit per 4.8-acre zone. “The county’s perspective is that zone doesn’t reflect what is on the ground, especially when you compare densities of the east end in (the Sequim) area to the west end.”

The county reported the window for appealing the Carlsborg urban growth area had long passed when Futurewise filed for a review.

“It’s called ‘reachback’ and if it is allowed, it creates an enormous amount of uncertainty in planning and fiscal management,” Jensen said. “The purpose of an appeal deadline is that you get certainty that you can move forward, otherwise you’re operating in a house of cards where everything falls when you reach back to adjust the foundation.”

The time line for the court appeal is not set.

In the meantime the planning staff will need to make a report in October regarding what it is doing to get areas in compliance.

The growth board invalidated 20 of the county’s limited areas of more intense rural development and planners are working to readjust boundaries to make those areas acceptable to the state.

Planners have rezoned areas surrounding Sequim and near Dungeness to be less dense and land inside the Sequim urban growth area to be more dense.

The county and the Clallam County Public Utility District are moving forward on plans to install a sewer line in Carlsborg. Jensen said the county would likely ask for an extension to become compliant in Carlsborg.

The county is holding a public meeting July 22 to field comments from the public on the interim zoning changes it has instituted during its transition. The Clallam County commissioners will have a joint meeting with the Clallam County Planning Commission on Aug. 6 to hear a presentation from planning staff and attorneys to get an idea of the time line involved in both ventures, the scope of work and how both bodies will fit into making both plans move forward.

A public hearing on the county’s interim zoning changes while it tries to come into compliance with the state Growth Management Act is set for July 22 at 10:30 a.m. in the county commissioners’ meeting room in the Clallam County Courthouse, 223 E. Fourth St.

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