Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

“Contentious Whitman Co. rural residential laws near completion”

From today’s Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Many residents still concerned, but county says issues of constitutionality have been addressed

Whitman County's proposed rural residential laws and revisions to its comprehensive plan could be signed into law by the end of the month.

A Tuesday night public hearing marked the last planned comment period before Whitman County commissioners enact the proposed laws, which is tentatively scheduled for their April 30 meeting.

The proposed land-use laws would open up the county's rural areas to development and eliminate the three-year waiting period that previously regulated development. The laws have caused a stir in the county since the revisions were first suggested by the county's planning commission several years ago.

The proposed laws initially contained restrictions on development on hilltops, the color a house could be painted and other rules that were greeted by public outcry at previous meetings.

The commissioners and county planning department retained the restrictions on hilltop construction, but nixed limitations on paint color and landscaping.

Restrictions on areas that could be developed sparked some concern over their constitutional legality by residents and county staff, including Prosecutor Denis Tracy.

Before meeting with the planning department, Tracy questioned if restrictions on hilltop building would be constitutionally defensible. Tracy said Tuesday that those issues have been resolved, partially by incorporating aquifer recharge zones onto the area's 15 buttes.

County planning staff previously said hilltop building restrictions were important for protecting the area's agricultural industry and for maintaining its image of wide-open, rolling hills.

Under the final revisions, people can build on a hill but there are restrictions on the exposure of the home.

Tuesday night's meeting was sparsely attended compared to past public hearings, but a wide array of comments were heard.

Several people spoke in favor of the new laws, saying they will protect agricultural land and allow for development.

Others questioned whether stipulations in the new laws would keep them from rebuilding their homes if they burned down, since the laws have changed since their houses were built. Tracy said the county does not want to restrict people from rebuilding their homes, and that he and the planning department will review the laws to make sure the wording is correct.

A few people commented that the timing of the hearing prohibited many landowners, especially farmers, from attending the 6 p.m. meeting.

"You're never going to find a time that works for everyone," Commissioner Michael Largent said. "This meeting was designed so people could come."

- Public comment will be accepted until April 27. Comments can be mailed to the county commissioners or submitted in person at the Whitman County Courthouse. The proposed laws can be viewed on the county Web site at www.whitmancounty.org. The revisions are at the bottom on the home page under quick links.


WHAT HAPPENED: Whitman County residents voiced their opinions on the county's revised comprehensive plan and proposed rural residential laws.

WHAT IT MEANS: The commissioners and county staff will take the public's suggestions and consider them in an effort to refine the proposed laws.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: County commissioners plan to review and sign the proposed laws April 30.

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: The new laws will form the foundation for development in the county for the next several decades.
So that explains how the constitutionality problems “disppeared.” Incredibly, the commissioners are playing the “water card,” just as Moscow has done with the Hawkins development in the corridor. I understand the county even used some studies done, by that’s right, Mark Solomon, to justify their decision. I’m going to get post links to these various studies as soon as I can. The science for using the buttes as “aquifer recharge zones,” from what I understand, is indefensible.

Even worse, those 15 buttes are not owned by the county, but by private landowners. There is no plan on how to compensate these owners of the buttes for the loss of use of their land Many believe this will result in either lawsuits or a change of commissioners in the next election. As a minimum, the commissionrs have to delay adoption of butte protection until they can determine ways to work with the landowners.

The commissioners have made a deal with the devil. The price will be high. This could come back to haunt the county in future legal wrangling with Moscow over the corridor. It may land the county in court trying to defend the constitutionality of this planning disaster. And, as mentioned earlier, it certainly may cost some commissioners their jobs next year.

But apparently the die has been cast. The commissioners' “damn the torpedos” approach has thus far evaded all resistance. And we in Whitman County will have to live in the shadow of this new zoning ordinance for years to come, as we have done with the previous one.

God help us.


April E. Coggins said...

"The science for using the buttes as “aquifer recharge zones,” from what I understand, is indefensible."

Ironic hypocrisy alert: Mark Solomon lives atop and observes the Palouse from the tallest butte on the Palouse. I am waiting to read that his house must come down to recharge the endangered aquifer.

Tom Forbes said...

Good point April! I had forgotten all about that!

Paul E. Zimmerman, M.A. said...

Hrm... maybe The King could buy an aquifer offset?

We could even let him pay for one in trade, say, for removing running water from his home? That would be fair, I think.

April E. Coggins said...

Nothing except banishment is good enough for a King. I certainly want to give his pomp and circumstance every credit that it due.

Bruce Heimbigner said...

Don't pay your property taxes and you'll learn who really owns the land.