Friday, July 11, 2008 - Page updated at
land clash: Can we preserve the green?
A state appeals court's rejection of
King County rural-land restrictions poses serious questions about how the
county can preserve the environment.
The three-judge Court of Appeals panel
ruled that land-clearing limits are an illegal form of in-kind tax, or fee, on
development. Property owners in rural King County who want to develop their
land are currently required to retain a certain amount of the trees and other
native vegetation on their property.
King County Executive Ron Sims is
right to seek answers from the Washington Supreme Court.
The appeals court discarded just one
provision of the county's Clearing and Grading Code, but it is a very important
one, a useful tool in helping maintain clean streams and wildlife habitat.
The limits on clearing and grading in
forested areas are bolstered by convincing environmental science. Flexibility
injected into the code struck a balance between environmental stewardship and
the needs of rural property owners.
Moreover, the court's ruling could set
an unhealthy precedent, inviting lawsuits from property owners unhappy with
other zoning regulations, from setbacks to easements.
The county's oversight of land use is
appropriate. Zoning mechanisms such as front- and side-yard setbacks and
property easements are other tools in the land-use arsenal. The Court of
Appeals doesn't cast doubt on these things. Nor do the judges refute the
scientific journals and other scholarly evidence pointing to a harmful
cause-and-effect of development.
The task for Sims is to marry the
county's environmental objectives with the law. Government lawyers argued that
the state Growth Management Act requires some limitations on rural land use.
"If the state Legislature had
intended such a reading when it passed the GMA, it would have said so. It did
not," retorted the court.
Onward to the high court, where it is
hoped justices will agree that the county has the right to protect our lakes,
streams and drinking water from excessive forest destruction.