Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

"Residents lash out against land laws"

From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Whitman County residents cheered everyone who spoke out against the county’s proposed land-use laws Tuesday night.

The few who supported it were met with silence.

County commissioners decided to hold a series of public hearings on the proposed land-use laws after receiving recommendations from the planning commission this spring. The proposed laws remove a three-year waiting period to build, but the laws regulate the lot size, location, color, landscape and view area of a building.

The Public Service Building auditorium was packed with people ardently opposed to the new laws, which they believe would limit their property rights.

Brian Sheer, who lives on South Palouse River Road, turned to the audience and asked people to raise their hands if they opposed the proposed laws. Almost everyone raised a hand.

"We should have the right to choose,” Sheer said. “It’s our land.”

Tom Vargas said the new law would strangle his rights and destroy his lifestyle.

“The county should just take down the American flag and put up a flag with a sickle,” Vargas said. “Don’t purge our freedom. We should be able to do what we want to do.”

James Fitzgerald said he’s afraid the proposed laws will destroy the core of the county — people.

“People who work the land are forced to sell because their children and grandchildren cannot afford to continue farming,” he said. “Sometimes selling off a little piece allows them to stay.”

Fitzgerald said if landowners lose their ability to develop their land the way they want, family farms could disappear and controlling corporate farms would take over.

Few people spoke in favor of the proposed laws.

Scott Cornelius said the region is in an economic, philosophical and social transition. He said when a planning commission created the current laws 30 years ago, landowners wanted protection against development. Now, many want to build.

He said there can be a balance between development and preserving the county’s rural nature.

As an example, Cornelius pointed to Montana, where rural sprawl gobbled up huge tracts of land. Vacation homes and ranchettes now cover the countryside. [According to U of I economist Steve Peterson, Whitman County is in no danger from "rural sprawl." This is a specious argument.]

Rhod Mcintosh, who served on the planning commission, said an effort was made to balance growth and protect agriculture. He said if a landowner sells property that sits next to a neighbor, the new builder becomes a terrible liability to others.

He said most of the people who will build in the rural area will not tolerate crop dusters buzzing their new home at 5 a.m. or having cows in their yard.

“People can still build, it just helps with the liability to others,” Mcintosh said. “I think this is a balance.” [What?]

At the end of the meeting, people shouted “Why the secrecy? Why the secrecy?” at the commissioners. The commissioners paid a private law firm from Spokane $5,000 to evaluate the proposed laws and test them against current statutes, but did not immediately release the results, citing attorney-client privilege.

Brenda Dillard said county officials have not listened to residents. Dillard wants the proposed laws to go on the ballot in November and let the public decide.

Commissioner Jerry Finch said the people decided when they elected the commissioners. He does not want to put the issue on the ballot.

“I think people will be surprised at what comes out,” Finch said. “We can’t please everyone, but we do not want to step on anyone’s toes. It will look a lot different when it’s done.”

Finch said regulating house color and shrubberies is an intrusion on landowners’ rights. He wouldn’t say whether he favored people building homes on ridge lines or bluffs.

Finch said the commissioners will now meet in workshop. The public can attend, although public comment will not be accepted.

Commissioners will hold another public hearing after their workshops. Finch hopes to vote on the package before Commissioner Les Wigen retires at the end of the year.


What happened

Whitman County commissioners opened a public meeting series to hear what residents think about the proposed land-use laws.

What’s next

The commissioners will use the public testimony to redraft the proposed laws. They also plan to hold more public hearings.

Why you should care

The new laws will determine how owners can use their land for the next several decades.
Bravo to everyone!!! The commissioners now know they are riding on the back of a tiger and need to get off. Thanks to to Ray and all the others who attended.


Nuge said...

FYI, Tom Barlass of Colfax, not Vargas.

Ryan Bently and I were at the same meeting, and our stories were a little different, so they are both worth reading if you were not there.

I was surprised at the lack of organization by the critics of the proposal. They have had plenty of time to tear it apart piece by piece.

They are the ones who have the uphill battle since the proposal is already written and ready for adoption, so I think they need to be more focused.

If you totally agree with it, you can just say let 'er rip and go home.

I think if you don't like it, you need to craft specific grievances and show real scenarios of the effect of the codes. Something is going to pass. I don't see them bagging it now.

When it comes time to compromise during a workshop, I don't think the ideological arguments of private property rights will really help out the county commission.

Finch said to me he thinks the county is split down the middle on this proposal, unlike the showing at the hearing, so maybe he doesn't feel the heat of being in the minority.

And perhaps there is a misunderstanding of the process. One man after the meeting was angered at the thought of not being able to comment during a workshop. But he made no comments for the record during the hearing. That's what public hearings are for.

Remember the comment period is open till next Friday.

Or is there a sense of resignation. Is that why so many who signed up to speak chose to pass when they were called on?

-Thinh Nguyen

April E. Coggins said...

I think the house color, landscaping, lighting, will go away. We will have a problem with view shed, hilltop houses and drive way distances. I am ready to encourage the current commissioners to change their vote, but I am not willing to stop the ordinance if I can't get my way. In my opinion, a little bending by the commissioners is better than none. Let's open up the county and then address each objection individually. It's foolish to throw out the baby with the bath water at this point. The alternative is to scrap everything and start over.