Local residents and property owners scrutinizing major changes to Kittitas County’s management of rural lands made their own suggestions Tuesday for modifying county zoning and development rules.
The comments, coming during a public hearing by the county Planning Commission from an audience of about 50, also pointed out concerns citizens have with the proposed modifications in how county government manages land use in rural areas.
Major changes include elimination of three-acre zoning in rural and agricultural designated lands, except for their possible use on property designated as limited areas of more intensive rural development or urban growth areas immediately next to cities. The proposal outlines five-acre minimum sized lots instead.
The proposal also would eliminate code provisions for performance-based cluster subdivisions, one-time lot splits, planned unit developments and the creation of large, rural lots without public hearings.
Having a say
Deidre Link of rural Cle Elum said the county hasn’t done a detailed, land-capacity analysis that would give exact information on what land uses are occurring where in rural areas. She said that information must be connected to new, population growth projections and allocations due to come out soon.
Roger Olsen of Nelson Siding Road said he’s studied the new rural recreational zoning provisions, and the underlying five-acre minimum lot size.
It appears to him that the new provisions will allow lots of one home for every 2 1/2 acres under specific projects in the zone. He said those small lots don’t comply with GMA and don’t protect rural character.
Gary Knapp of Sanders Road said county government should clearly inform purchasers of rural property who are building a home that their zoning and land-use rules are likely to change in their location.
Lila Hanson of Swauk Prairie said the three-acre zoning provision is useful to farmers and ranchers needing to boost revenue by selling small amounts of unproductive acreage and still work the rest of their land in open-space agriculture.
Hanson, who operates a farm with her husband, said eliminating the three-acre zoning provisions could be seen as a legal taking of property rights.
The county’s land-use changes, if finally approved, would reduce the number of transferable development rights on their property from an estimated 200 to only 30, she said.
To give agricultural producers options for use of their land, Hanson suggested the creation of a rural reserve designation or program to allow agriculture producers to sell small amounts of land for home sites from time to time when it was financially needed. She also suggested allowing five-acre zoning in agriculture-designated areas to assist farmers in having options for land sales.
Chad Bala, of the Terra Design Group, suggested many changes to the county’s proposal, including more density of homes in conservation plats involving smaller parcels, and not changing to forest and range some existing industrially designated lands.
Bala also called for more diverse recreation-related activities to be added to what is allowed in the rural recreation designation.
A representative of Ellensburg Cement Products Inc. said the company’s industrially-zoned lands west of Ellensburg shouldn’t be changed to forest and range, even if the company can continue to utilize the land as a legal, pre-existing non-conforming use that is allowed to continue. The zone change may conflict with company plans to add or modify industrial-related activities at the site, he said.
Before comments were taken, county planning and legal staff summarized the changes that have been in the development stage since late 2011.
County Planning Official Robert “Doc” Hansen emphasized the changes are aimed to bring county government’s land-use rules into compliance with the state’s Growth Management Act.
The act calls on local governments in the state to protect and preserve the rural character of lands outside cities and adequately plan for future growth near cities.
Repeated rulings by the Eastern Washington Growth Management Hearings Board have declared the county’s allowance of three-acre minimum lot sizes created urban-type housing and other uses in rural areas, going against GMA.
A July 2011 majority state Supreme Court decision called on the county to overhaul all its rural land-use rules to show how it is protecting rural character. The county faces a Dec. 21 deadline to show the state growth board it has accomplished the task.
In earlier comments, Hansen said there are an estimated 12,000 lots of record that are not developed in the county, and new guidelines are required to assure their future use protects rural character.