by Jeff Switzer
Following a 7-4 decision by the Metropolitan-King County Council allowing some rural landowners to develop their properties at a higher density, Executive Gary Locke vetoed the measure because he felt it was the first step in breaking the Urban-Rural line.
"I vetoed this ordinance because it promotes suburban sprawl in our rural farm and forest lands, and treats property owners unfairly by allowing some to subdivide while telling others they cannot," Locke said.
"King County is one of the few places in the state that is making growth management work. We drew a line beyond which we said no urban development shall occur; now we need to keep that line strong."
The ordinance passed by the council would allow parcels zoned RA 2.5, which currently allows one house in five acres, to subdivide to one house in 2.5 acres if surrounded on three sides by smaller density parcels.
The Republican contingent of the King County Council voted in favor of the ordinance, including Chair Jane Hague, Vice Chair Louise Miller, and Councilmembers Pullen, von Reichbauer, Vance, Derdowski, and McKenna.
The council's Democrats voted against the measure, including Councilmembers Sullivan, Fimia, Gossett, and Sims. Democratic Councilmembers Phillips and Nickels were absent.
Vance, chair of the Growth Management, Housing, and Environment committee, wrote to Locke saying his veto is "tantamount to willful non-compliance with the Growth Management Act."
"Not only did he abandon hundreds of residents who were expecting help from King County, but he also put the county in jeopardy of ending up just like Chelan County," Vance said, citing Chelan County's recent non-compliance which led to state sanctions.
"If we don't implement this ordinance now, we fail to comply with state law. It's as simple as that," Vance added. He said the ordinance implements adopted policy.
Locke rejected claims that the veto would create the potential for state sanctions against King County.
"This is one policy out of hundreds, and one regulation out of thousands," said Locke. "This ordinance as passed would jump urban development over the line we've drawn to protect our precious rural farms and forests. It would have been impossible to administer, given the irregular shapes of many lots."
Councilmember Sullivan voted against the measure and then called upon Locke to veto the ordinance, stating that its passage would open the door to more development of rural lands.
"What this vote means to the county's rural areas is more houses, more development, and more pressure to continue to turn farmland into subdivisions," she said.
Locke's staff requested more time from the GMHE committee to allow for deliberation in the context of a transfer of density program.
Vance delayed, but said he received no information and learned that information would not be available until a state-funded study next year.
"I thought the executive agreed with the council that these small landowners needed our help. Instead, he has decided that playing politics is more important than offering King County residents a helping hand," Vance said.
Vance added that he considered it "unconscionable" to ask residents to wait another year to use their property in a way consistent with adopted policy.
During the legislative process, seven citizens testified in favor of the ordinance, four of whom are Woodinville residents, including well-known rural landowner and activist Maxine Keesling.
The Executive is reportedly working on a program allowing the transfer of development rights which would "allow property owners to get the economic value out of their land without having to sell it to developers.
Instead, they would sell development rights on their land to other owners who want to subdivide their property for housing, resulting in "a transfer of density from one place to another, with no net increase in residential growth."
According to the King County Charter, the council has 30 days to act on an executive veto, requiring a super-majority of nine or more votes for an override.