Following a lengthy legal battle between local environmental groups and King County, the controversial Adult Beverage Ordinance (ABO) was unanimously invalidated by the Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB) on Jan. 3.
“It has been a long road to get to this decision,” said Serena Glover, executive director of Friends of Sammamish Valley (FoSV). “We are pleased the board agreed with our assertion that the ordinance violates the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) and the Growth Management Act (GMA), and further recognized the flaw in the county’s foundational premise that the ordinance tightened up regulations.”
The ordinance, which opened rural and agricultural farmlands for urban use retail and commercial businesses in 2018, was sponsored by former King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert.
"I hope that the new council will be aware of the implication of this,” Lambert said, referring to the invalidation. “There’s not much more that I can say that I haven’t already. It’s not unexpected that the Hollywood Hill Association would have continued to pressure their opinion. It’ll be up to the county to decide what they want to do.”
Recently elected King County Councilmember Sarah Perry, who filled Lambert’s position, was unavailable for comment.
In 2019, FoSV formed to preserve and protect the Sammamish Valley Agricultural Production District (APD) as well as the character and lifestyle in the rural area. Futurewise, a nonprofit in support of equitable land-use policies, joined forces with FoSV to petition the ordinance.
The ordinance would have allowed businesses to sell alcoholic beverages on designated farmland and rural areas in the county, according to a news release from FoSV.
Glover said the GMHB first invalidated the ordinance in May 2020 for lack of SEPA compliance. The county appealed the decision to the King County Superior Court, resulting in a return to the GMHB several months ago.
On Jan. 3, the board ruled that King County failed to demonstrate its environmental impacts and did not “ensure protection of agricultural lands, salmon habitats, open spaces and the character of rural areas as required by law,” the release said. This violates requirements from both the SEPA and the GMA.
According to the board decision, the ordinance was inconsistent with state law as well as the King County Comprehensive Plan. The board also recognized that regulations would likely lead to more businesses in rural and farming areas, which are not served by public infrastructures like sewers, storm drainage, roads and sidewalks.
“Home to dozens of farmers, the Sammamish Valley is an epicenter of vegetable farming close to the Seattle metro area, where we’re using environmentally sustainable farming techniques,” said Andrew Ely, Sammamish Valley farm owner and FoSV board member. “Our ecosystem depends on the health and rural nature of the surrounding land. The relentless pressure of completely unnecessary urban sprawl could displace our farm businesses in the blink of an eye. The GMHB decision is a breath of fresh air and vital to our continued success.”
Wineries and breweries hoping to apply for development within the APD will not be able to do so until a new ordinance is adopted by the county, the release said.
Some business owners are disappointed in the decision.
Michael Tenhulzen, owner of TM Squared LLC, has lived around the Sammamish Valley for most of his adult life. In 2019, his company purchased a 1.46-acre parcel that was zoned as Rural Area in unincorporated King County, he said.
“The entire beverage ordinance process has been a rather strange waste of resources,” Tenhulzen said. “From my vantage point, it seems the county routinely oversteps its bounds. Many of its policies could be repealed under similar scrutiny.”
Good Brewing Hollywood Taproom, which sits on property owned by Tenhulzen, is another business facing closure for violating county code. Owner Kevin King claims his business was given a verbal commitment to operate while the ABO was being completed.
He is hoping for King County to implement a “Grandfather Clause” that would allow for Good Brewing and eight other businesses to be exempt from closure, he said.
Sammamish Valley farmer Shawn Miller, owner of Tuk Muk Farm, said the topic isn’t about one entity against another. It’s about protecting farmland to grow food for the community, he said.
“As a lover of the land, local food, nature and all the beauty the river brings, it was personally quite stressful and worrisome to know the valley may be altered in a way that would harm those things, and our livelihood,” Miller said. “We must work together to achieve this. We must. If we take that away, we all lose.”
At the hearing, the board pointed out different considerations where impacts of expansion were not considered such as repeal of the prior code provision limiting alcohol sales to products produced on-site and reducing lot size from 4.5 acres to 2.5 acres.
In its decision, the board concluded the ordinance does not align with the rural and agricultural areas and could negatively impact the land with groundwater pollution, reduction of instream flows and impacts on wildlife, according to FoSV.
Because of these reasons, the board determined that Demonstration Project Overlay A violated the Growth Management Act. Properties within the overlay include Casa Feliciana, Cougar Crest, Cave B and Sky River Mead, according to King County property data.
FoSV and Futurewise will continue to work with the King County Council to adopt a new ordinance that addresses the county’s goals as well as concerns of local farmers and community members, the release said.
“The board’s decision reiterated that working farms and rural areas throughout the state must be protected,” Futurewise executive director Alex Brennan said. “This decision recognizes state protections for prime farmland from conversion to nonagricultural uses and from the adverse impacts of nearby uses such as polluted stormwater runoff. Preserving local farms is essential for a healthy, climate resilient food system.”