July13, 2010 - Issue of the Week
The Shift from Protecting Farmland to Protecting Development?
First, apologies for not keeping up with the blog of late. Because of the tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico the U.S. Congress has ramped up oversight of everything to do with oil, so over the past few weeks I have been involved with six Congressional hearings in DC concerning pipeline safety. Not much time for much else, but its important to try to strike while Congress has an interest, so perhaps something positive can come from such a terrible disaster.
So what's happening this week? Well certainly what is getting the most attention is the hearing and probable vote to pander to development interests and expand Urban Growth Areas (UGAs) beyond what the Council and County Executive came up with last year. Last year's decision brought the County into compliance with state law regarding the UGAs. But instead of attending to other growth issues the County is still out of compliance with this new pro-sprawl Council has wasted nearly eight months revisiting a decisions that the County is already required to revisit again in 2011 - next year. Now that's fiscally non-conservative planning for you.
While I suspect that issue is a done deal the other idea that will be discussed on Tuesday is Ward Nelson's idea of getting rid of the Agriculture Protection Overlay (APO). The APO applies to land in the rural zone that has valuable agricultural soils. The main idea is in the areas with this valuable farmland require people who are intent on subdividing their property to cluster the homes to allow a large portion of the land to still be available in the future for farming. While clustering certainly isn't the silver bullet to protect all farmland, in many cases it is one tool that can be used to preserve large chunks of land that can remain in productive farmland, either by the owner or leased to a local farmer.
The APO was one of the ways the County "designated" farmland to comply with the Growth Management Act. If the Council changes this designation I suspect it would create troubles for staying in compliance with this important aspect of protecting rural character and resource lands.
This should be a fascinating discussion with Ward Nelson now wanting to get rid of the APO overlay because he feels the tool is not worth the difficulty it creates for people who want to subdivide and develop their property. Sam Crawford has already questioned whether the goal of protecting 100,000 acres of farmland is even important. He also has repeatedly stated his intent to halt the funding for the Purchase of Development Rights program, which is one of the few farmland protection tools we have that is actually working. Where the rest of the Council falls in this farmland protection versus do nothing to impede development in rural areas argument I can't predict.
The discussion will be in the Natural Resources Committee at 9:30 AM in the Council Chambers.