Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

"County adopts rural residential laws; Commissioner Largent casts lone dissenting vote, saying viewsheds and setbacks too restrictive"

From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Whitman County residents will have more ways to use their land starting May 15.

County commissioners approved revisions to the county's rural residential laws by a 2-1 vote Monday. Commissioner Michael Largent cast the dissenting vote.

The new laws, which had been in the works for much of the last six years, set limits on where new structures can be built by regulating their distance from roads, elevation on buttes, where the structures are located in relation to a neighbor's property and the acreage necessary to build upon.

Despite those restrictions, the laws were intended to help the county grow. They replace a land-use policy that has been in place for more than 30 years and required a section of ground to remain unused for three years before it could be developed. The revised laws include no mandatory waiting period.

Largent said restrictions regarding required viewshed protection and mandatory setbacks do not align with his personal convictions concerning private property rights.

"That doesn't mean the other commissioners don't value property rights, though," he said.

Largent said Commissioners Greg Partch and Jerry Finch did not try to pressure him to vote for the new laws.

"Now that they are law I will support them," he said.

Partch said the commissioners wanted to preserve and bolster agriculture and maintain the natural beauty of the county while making way for rural residential development.

"I think we've accomplished that," Partch said. "I believe we'll look back at this in 20 years and know we did the right thing."

Partch said the public process was instrumental in the formation of the new laws and the refinement process. It was public input that originally started the revision to the county's comprehensive plan.

The planning commission sent its proposed land-use laws to the commissioners last summer. The proposed laws initially restricted the size, type, color and landscape of new structures built in the county, which caused an uproar among many rural residents. After several heated public comment sessions last fall, county officials nixed most of the sections that restricted personal property rights.

The county did hold onto proposed viewshed and butte-top building restrictions, which are designed to protect the natural aspects of the area. It also kept setbacks and buffer zones to protect agriculture and eliminate conflicts between farmers and rural landowners.

In December, county Prosecutor Denis Tracy raised questions about the constitutionality of the proposed laws. He worked with the planning department and the commissioners to resolve the potential problems.

The county established aquifer-recharge zones around buttes to preserve them from development and protect areas that potentially recharge the region's aquifer systems.

"Whitman County hasn't grown for years," Partch said. "Now hopefully we can have some forward movement."


WHAT HAPPENED: Whitman County commissioners voted 2-1 to approve the county's revised rural residential laws.

WHAT IT MEANS: The new laws open up development in the county by eliminating the three-year waiting period the county previously had in place.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: The laws go into effect May 15.

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: The new laws make way for development in the county.
I congratulate the commissioners on their scientific acumen on where the aquifer recharges. It was reported elsewhere in the Daily News today that "it is unknown where the water enters the aquifer."

"I believe we'll look back at this in 20 years and know we did the right thing." We'll see about that. I sure hope he's right. I'll be happier than anyone. But you can't fool Mother Nature and you don't trick the immutable laws of economics.

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