SEATTLE - A state appellate court has overturned a section of King County's controversial land use ordinance that had required some landowners to leave 50 percent of their property in a natural state.
The King County ordinance, passed in 2005, required that anyone owning more than five acres must leave 50 percent to 65 percent of the land in a natural state. It also required landowners to leave buffers of 75 to 225 feet from streams and wetlands.
The appellate court held that the 65 percent set-aside rule violates a state law prohibiting a “tax, fee or charge” on land use.
The King County ordinance, passed in 2005, was intended to protect environmentally sensitive areas and prevent erosion and flooding.
In March 2005, Citizens' Alliance for Property Rights, a political action committee, and five people whose land was subject to the ordinance filed a lawsuit against King County and others, alleging that the ordinance violates substantive due process and other provisions of the Washington constitution.
Ron Sims statement
King County Executive Ron Sims issued a statement on the ruling, saying:
"We are very disappointed with the court's ruling on the clearing limits included in King County's Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) regulations, which indicated that the county's 65-percent standard for maintaining current vegetation on every project should be evaluated on an individual basis.
It's important to note that the court did not strike down the entire CAO and did not dispute the science underlying the clearing limits. However the ruling fails to recognize that these clearing limits help recharge groundwater used by rural property owners for their drinking water and protects rural property owners against flood risks.
Maintaining forest cover is also a key strategy in protecting Puget Sound. The Puget Sound Partnership has identified reducing stormwater runoff as one of the key elements of Puget Sound recover. So this task will be even more difficult if the Court's decision is allowed to stand.
We are still researching what today's decision means for King County residents and government. We will work with our attorneys to carefully review the decision and determine our next steps.
One possible unintended consequence to this decision is that some property owners may face higher restrictions than those currently in place.
Since the Court of Appeals decision does not take effect immediately, the county's existing regulations will remain in effect while we decide whether to seek review by the Washington State Supreme Court."