Lot division disallowed in Palo Verde

For more than 17 years, residents in a subdivision abutting the city of Sequim have been trying to distance themselves from the municipality.

And now due to a state ruling that identified the zoning around the Palo Verde neighborhoods as out of compliance with state law, its residents are close to having that distance.

The Clallam County commissioners already have put a moratorium on land divisions there and they plan to discuss the area's exclusion late next year.

The Palo Verde I and Palo Verde II subdivisions are bounded by North Priest Road and West Hendrickson Road at the northwest corner of Sequim, just a short walk away from Wal-Mart.

But it is developments like Wal-Mart's shopping center and the now-under-construction Priest Road Center just to the east that make Palo Verde residents feel threatened by development and possibly higher densities of housing in their neighborhood.

"We were built out at 80 percent in 1991 when we first petitioned to not be included and we've been nearly completely built out in attempts to be excluded since then," said Palo Verde Vista II resident Judy Larson. "We believe there was a mistake that these subdivisions, one of which has covenants disallowing higher densities, were included in the UGA."

The neighborhood is not in the city but is in the city's designated urban growth area. Urban growth areas are set by counties in areas where urban development is allowed, such as around an established municipality, such as Sequim, or in a developed community, such as Carlsborg.

It is within the boundaries of the growth area that urban services and development are allowed. Otherwise the county's zoning must reflect rural densities.

Palo Verde residents never wanted to be a part of the growth area or the city of Sequim. They rallied against inclusion when the growth area was set up in the early 1990s and have made sure to make their opinions known in the years since.

However, due to an April 2008 ruling from the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, the zoning on thousands of acres was deemed out of compliance with state law.

The land Palo Verde sits on was a part of that ruling, which said the zoning did not require high enough densities for land inside a growth area.

During public hearings on the county's state law compliance plan, Larson and other Palo Verde residents began stepping up to the microphone, reminding Clallam County planning commissioners they never wanted to be in the growth area in the first place.

"We were there in 1991 when it was set up, we were there in 2004 when the comprehensive plan was updated and we are here now," Larson said, indicating a significant majority of residents in the area have routinely signed petitions for the cause.

"Bell Hill was excluded based on neighborhood preference in 1995 or 1996. Why not us?"

Planning commissioners decided to give the residents another chance at exclusion. They recommended three things in regard to Palo Verde; county commissioners should set the exclusion discussion up for 2009, change the area's zoning to allow up to five dwelling units per acre and put a moratorium on all new land divisions in the area to retain its current densities.

County commissioners followed the recommendation and approved an emergency moratorium Oct. 28.

"All land uses are still allowed in the area," Clallam County planning manager Steve Gray said. "You just cannot divide property into new lots until this is discussed at the annual docket meeting."

The move essentially holds lots sizes to where they are today until the county holds meetings on the proposed exclusion of the development from the growth area, which is likely to happen in the fall 2009.

"We are searching out compliance for now, so making decisions on an exclusion should be put onto the annual docket, which is where those decisions are usually made," said Clallam County deputy civil prosecuting attorney Douglas Jensen at a compliance meeting earlier this fall.

The fact that the issue is up for discussion in 2009 does not necessarily mean the subdivision will be removed from Sequim's growth area.

"Annexation is still one thing we are concerned about because the moratorium does not protect against that," Larson said.

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