Speak out for responsible county growth

The people are coming. The people are coming. It’s the county’s cry of growth, repeated like Chicken Little’s cry that the sky is falling. Projected population is so great, they say, and their obligation to the state Growth Management Act to plan for that growth is binding. Local folks had might as well move over and squeeze in the newcomers.

You might decide that you can fight neither progress nor the county. But let’s first get a few facts straight. The purpose of growth management is to make reasonable provisions for growth while preventing sprawl. The county’s land use designations and zoning are what we use for that purpose. Yet, the mechanisms for subverting this zoning are stronger than the county’s apparent resolve to meet both the intent and letter of the Growth Management Act.

The most outrageous subversion technique is Fully Contained Communities (FCCs). They allow a brand new city of 15,000 people, high-density housing, business and industry, to pop up in a rural area. An FCC has been suggested for Lake Roesiger and another in Seven Lakes. Some argue that they are part of Snohomish County’s plan to accommodate growth. If an FCC is built just to fulfill a developer’s fantasy, and is not required to meet the demands of growth, then it is not a plan. It’s an accommodation for more development — managed growth be damned.

Rural Cluster Housing is another method used to get more houses than zoning otherwise allows. By clustering them, the number of homes can double. The increase is bonus density. When this concept is abused in scale, and when one cluster is built after another and yet another, all we really have is a cluster. Of course, they do leave open space: the valuable but unbuildable wetlands trapped between clusters of houses and the ugly stormwater retention ponds.

The county’s own staff has said that the continued use of large rural cluster developments will result in an excess of rural growth. The County Council reviews the trends but there is no clear outline for action. Will they simply adjust their plans for more rural growth? Again, that’s not planning, it’s accommodating. Despite clear data that rural clusters would create an excess of rural growth if the current trend continues, the council is resisting reducing the density bonuses and sizes of rural clusters in the current Unified Development Code update.

The opportunity is there for change. The county is knee-deep in the process of revising the UDC, the code for both rural clusters and for urban design standards, which will help urban citizens with the pains of growth they have been suffering. Study the information on the county Web site (www.snoco.org), talk to Futurewise (www.futurewise.org), and look to www.7-lakes.com. The county’s decisions for changing this code cannot be made in a vacuum. In UDC update discussions, county staff has said that rural clusters are the “centerpiece” of preserving the rural areas, and that defining rural character includes the “new rural character” created by these clusters. Clearly, decisions made for us, but without us in the process, have not been the best to date. That won’t change without our intervention.

Learn about developments in your area. Use the county’s permit map (search “interactive permit map” on its Web site). Become a party of record and share your opinions with the Planning and Development Services department. If you wait until an application has gone to hearing, the hearing examiner can only consider what was already on the record and no new information will be heard. 7-Lakes is also holding a meeting at 7 p.m. Nov. 14 at the Lake Goodwin Community Club to discuss development plans and how we can impact them as a community.

And let us not forget: elections are coming. Look at the candidates’ voting records and campaign funding sources (some are listed on our Web site). Support the candidate and the organizations that best represent your goals. Funded community organizations have a fighting chance to sustain their involvement.

We must be involved. The County Council and executive need to wake up to a horde of citizens at their door. They must be held accountable for managing growth in the interest of all citizens, urban and rural, developer or not.

Yes, the people are coming. Have your say. Affect code development. Call for an end to FCCs. Vote in a new Council, then hold their feet to the fire of change.

Change is coming, too. Let’s make it for the better. Be involved.

Ellen Hiatt Watson is founder and chair of 7-Lakes, an organization forming as a nonprofit in response to development in the rural areas of Snohomish County. 7-Lakes works to unite all community groups for education and the creation of a unified voice in county processes.

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