County government is, to many, a bit of a mystery. Everyone knows it is there but few could tell you much about it or what it does. While most political folks are focused on the activities of the state legislature, congress, and our president, local government just sort of chugs along with little attention. This is despite the fact that it is local government that determines how our local communities work and grow - for better or for worse. One of the key functions of county and city government is regulating land use.
One of my top priorities as a County Council member is to ensure the preservation and enhancement of agriculture in the County. I have consistently opposed attempts to whittle away at farm land for such ill conceived projects as car dealerships and shopping centers. It is absolutely essential that we reserve our existing prime agricultural lands for farming, natural resource protection, and other rural uses. I would, in fact, like to bring upland lands suitable for agriculture back in to ag designation. Thousands of acres of prime farm land were rezoned residential back in 1995. This was a mistake and I hope to correct it in the future.
Unfortunately on Wednesday Councilmen Nelson, Koster and Sievers voted to ignore the Growth Management Hearings Board and state law. This was despite requests from the land owner, the City of Arlington, Cascade Land Conservancy, and Futurewise (formerly 1000 Friends of Washington) to consider an amicable settlement proposal.
A bit of history...
In 2005, the County Council voted to expand the Arlington urban growth area (UGA) to include 5 acres of the Foster dairy. This was just one of a long string of attempts by the Council over the years to turn farm land into commercial enterprises - the most notorious of these is the ongoing push to turn farm land into a new car lot for auto dealer Dwayne Lane. Time and time again, the County has been told by the Hearings Board and the courts that this is illegal. The Growth Management Act requires farm land to be designated and then protected. Paving over farm land for a car dealership is not protecting it. Futurewise challenged the 2005 action to the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board.
The Hearings Board found in September that the County was out of compliance with the Growth Management Act and ordered it to return the farm land to rural status. The County was given until January 18th, 2007 to comply with this order. The Council's action on Wednesday (1/10/07) was in direct violation of this order - a virtual one finger salute to the Hearings Board and the law.
The race is on. Futurewise has vowed to fight the action, however the State Boundary Review Board for Snohomish County is reportedly on a fast track to OK the annexation, rendering the conversion of the farm land to urban designation permanent.
Once more, Snohomish County is arrogantly headed in the wrong direction.