Sustainable Thurston’s plan sparks debate

The Chronicle (Centralia)November 10, 2013 

By Lisa Broadt Property rights activists on both sides of the rural-urban divide are tussling over fundamental land use questions: Who knows how to best manage Southwest Washington land? Who should be allowed to make decisions about its use?

These were the sparks in a heated conversation earlier this month at the Thurston Regional Planning Council, the Olympia-based governing board comprised of representatives from 14 local jurisdictions.

The Planning Council is working on the latest version of Sustainable Thurston, a menu of policies that can be used by local jurisdictions, particularly in their implementations of the state Growth Management Act.

At the Nov. 1 hearing, more than 50 members of the public attended to speak against – and in a few cases support – the comprehensive plan. Members of a new grassroots group dedicated to fighting Sustainable Thurston were among the most vocal.

According to the group, which does not yet have an official name, the Planning Council’s intentions are further reaching than they seem. If implemented, they say Sustainable Thurston might erode landowners’ constitutional rights, another crack in what they see as a landslide toward socialism.

But the Planning Council approved the current Sustainable Thurston draft. The plan will be shelved for 30 days and the public may submit comments. The council could give final approval to the plan as soon as Dec. 6.

In developing the plan throughout the past three years, the Sustainable Thurston Task Force has pondered the question, “How do you want your community to look, function and feel in 2035?”

Its answer: A community with less waste and pollution, one with plenty of open space and economic opportunities.

To get there, the task force has suggested changes to land use, transportation, housing, water infrastructure, and health and human services.

“In one generation … the Thurston region will become a model for sustainability and livability,” planners wrote in Sustainable Thurston. “We will consume less energy, water and land, produce less waste, and achieve carbon neutrality.”

In the document, the Thurston planners lay out long-term goals, and the first steps needed to reach them.

In land-use planning, the planners set a goal of limiting new housing in rural areas to 5 percent of all new housing. They also will create an inventory of farmlands, forest land, prairies and other critical habitats that “may be at risk due to development pressure.”

Appropriate next steps, they said, are to support the agricultural economy, purchase or transfer developments, and change rural zoning

In 2010, the Thurston Region was awarded a Federal Housing and Urban Development Community Planning Grant. It was one of 45 successful applicants out of 1,000 applications submitted.

Twenty-nine partners signed on to the grant project, including public, private and nonprofit groups, and more than 2,000 people provided input, according to the Planning Council.

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