Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Monday, September 18, 2006

Speaking of Property Rights

From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
I-933 could put Pullman in a bind

Planning Dept. to review city’s critical areas ordinance

The city of Pullman may find itself caught between a buffer zone and a hard place if a controversial property-rights initiative is approved by voters in the November general election.

The city’s planning department is gearing up to take a look at the city’s critical areas ordinance, the law that protects sensitive environmental areas such as wetlands, habitat areas, flood-prone areas, shorelines and aquifer recharge areas. The ordinance must be updated with the “best available science” by Dec. 1, 2007 under a schedule set forth in the Growth Management Act, a state law that governs planning.

Critical areas ordinances are a prime target of Initiative 933, a law proposed by the Washington Farm Bureau that has the potential to roll back land-use restrictions passed since Jan. 1, 1996, and force government to justify any new ones.

It also would require governments to pay private property owners any time the use or value of property is damaged by restrictive regulations.

Buffer zones — the area adjacent to wetlands or shorelines that are protected from development — are one of the reasons the initiative was written, said John Stuhlmiller, assistant director of government relations for the Washington Farm Bureau.

Critical areas ordinances throughout the state set forth buffer requirements that deprive landowners of use of their property without compensation, Stuhlmiller said. Landowners must continue to pay property taxes on the land, but lose the right to do anything with it.

“It’s the center of the thought behind Initiative 933,” Stuhlmiller said. “If those kind of buffers go on, property owners should be compensated for that.”

Land-use laws and critical areas ordinances won’t automatically be invalidated by the initiative if it passes, Stuhlmiller said, but it will open up a process for landowners to file claims or sue government for compensation if use of their property is deprived by overly restrictive regulations.

“It’s not like all of a sudden on Nov. 8 there’s no environmental statutes left on the books,” he said.

As long as the law is in place, the city must move forward with updating its critical areas ordinance to comply with state laws, said City Supervisor John Sherman.

The city last updated its critical areas ordinance in 2003 because the state offered the city money to look at new science available since the ordinance was written in 1992, said Planning Director Pete Dickinson.

The 2003 revision resulted in a tighter, more restrictive ordinance than the one written in 1992. New, more detailed reporting requirements were put into place for property owners who thought they might have a protected area on their land, Dickinson said.

It also set forth specific buffer requirements that weren’t in the 1992 ordinance, causing some people to complain the 2003 law was too restrictive.

“Because the ordinance has to be based on the best available science, and that’s what we were told we needed to do to comply with state law, our hands were pretty much tied,” Dickinson said. “Buffers are where we get most discussion. Some people feel they should be able to develop right up to the wetland.”

Dickinson expects the 2007 update will be minor compared to the changes made in 2003.

“What we’ll do is look at state requirements and guidelines to see if anything has changed since 2003. We will review any updates to the science literature to see if changes are necessitated,” Dickinson said.
So let's up sum up I-933:

  • May result in some onerous land-use restrictions passed since Jan. 1, 1996 being revoked, and force governments to think hard before making new ones

  • Requires governments to pay private property owners any time the use or value of property is damaged by restrictive regulations

  • Will not automatically revoke any environmental reguations

  • What's wrong with that? Sounds pretty American to me. Yet the left-wing environmentalists are spending millions to fight it with a campaign of lies and scare tactics. Why? Because their statist views are repulsed by private property rights. Only Big Government (i.e. them) knows what is best for your property.

    It's effect is already being felt. We have Pete Dickinson predicting that any 2007 critical area ordinance changes will be minor compared to the 2003 ones. "Best available science" leaves you a fair amount of wiggle room. The specter of I-933 is also influencing the debate over the county's rural housing ordinance. This alone proves why we need I-933. Olympia has repeatedly refused to modify the Growth Management Act, so we have to take matters in our own hands.

    When it comes to private property, isn't it the government that needs to be in a "bind", as opposed to the citizen?

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