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Know the West

Seattle's rural neighbors rise up

  Emboldened by a recently passed ballot initiative requiring Oregon’s state and local governments to pay for land-use regulations, residents in Seattle’s King County are whipping up a property-rights revolt of their own (HCN, 11/22/04: Election Day Surprises in the Schizophrenic West).

In October, the Democrat-led county council adopted new land-use ordinances meant to protect "critical areas," such as wetlands and wildlife habitat. The regulations require rural property owners to leave streamside buffers, and 50 to 65 percent of their land, undeveloped. Existing agricultural land is exempt, as is commercial timberland.

In response, the Citizens’ Alliance for Property Rights, a landowners’ group, collected about 51,000 signatures for three ballot initiatives that would repeal the ordinances. King County and environmental groups took the initiatives to court, where a county judge ruled that state law prevents citizens from using referendums to overturn local land-use rules written to comply with the state’s Growth Management Act.

The Citizens’ Alliance has vowed to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court, but Tim Trohimovich, planning director for the environmental group 1,000 Friends of Washington, points out that the Supreme Court has already ruled on the issue — in favor of land-use rules.

Meanwhile, the Pacific Legal Foundation, a property-rights group, is preparing a lawsuit against the county. And county council member Kathy Lambert, R, who, along with the council’s other Republican members, voted against the ordinances, says the fight is far from over: "They may have woken up a sleeping giant."