An ‘opt out’ for growth management act?

Among a slew of legislative proposals introduced this session focusing on Washington’s Growth Management Act (GMA), two, which would allow counties with smaller populations to opt out of full planning under the act, were approved by committees and advance in their respective chambers for further consideration.

Senate Bill 5636, sponsored by Sen. John Smith (R-7th District, Colville), would allow 12 counties with less than 25,000 residents to remove themselves from the GMA requirements.

The House version, HB 1224, allows counties that had previously opted into the GMA with less than 20,000 residents to withdraw. Four counties would qualify: Ferry, Pend Oreille, Columbia and Garfield.

Both bills were introduced in order to address the alleged burdens the GMA places on rural areas throughout the state that experience little fluctuation in population and economic growth from year to year.

Proponents of both measures believe that local government officials should have greater control over their planning and land use policies rather than leaving oversight to the seven-person, governor-appointed state Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB).

“This measure is important because it’s about preserving and protecting local community viability, and giving small counties the right and flexibility to save money and make decisions that would produce the best economic and environmental outcomes for their community,” said Smith. “It is time to unleash the strength of character and innovation that has been sequestered in our rural counties for far too long.”

The GMA is a land-use planning measure that outlines 14 goals that attempt to employ environmentally friendly means to managing population growth. Requirements include identifying urban growth areas, protecting natural resource lands and composing critical area plans, among others.

Counties planning under the GMA that violate its requirements are subject to appeals often brought either by conservation groups, other organizations or individuals. Appeals, called petitions of review, are brought to the GMHB, at which time the board decides if a county is in or out of compliance with GMA standards.

Thirty petitions of review against counties were filed with the GMHB in 2012. Only two cases found counties in non-compliance, according to board’s data. Several appeals made in 2012 remain under review.  From 2005 to 2012, nearly 40 percent of the petitions of review filed found counties non-compliant.

While the bill is intended to help counties and cities who claim they have suffered economically as a result of complying with the GMA, conservation groups say that the act is necessary to assure land-planning reflects the interests of both economic development and environmental preservation.

“The Growth Management Act asks our communities to think holistically about the future, to think about housing, job opportunities, economic development, the environment,” said April Putney of FutureWise, a conservation-interest group.

SB 5636 was approved Feb. 18 by the Senate Government Operations Committee on a party-line 4-3 vote. HB 1224 was approved by a 5-3 bipartisan vote in the House Local Government Committee Friday (Feb. 22).

Kylee Zabel is a reporter for the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Olympia News Bureau.


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