Thurston planning panel OKs land policies

Sustainable Thurston headed to vote in local jurisdictions despite vocal opposition

The Chronicle, CentraliaDecember 15, 2013 

The Thurston Regional Planning Council has approved Sustainable Thurston, a menu of policies that local jurisdictions can use in land planning, particularly in implementation of the state Growth Management Act.

Sustainable Thurston next will be put to a vote in Thurston County’s local jurisdictions. Work on the document began three years ago.

The planning council’s vote elicited audible disappointment from approximately 80 members of Grassroots Thurston present at the vote. Grassroots Thurston — comprising farmers and lands right advocates from Thurston, Lewis and Mason counties — had hoped to delay a vote until after the upcoming legislative session.

The group disagrees with the Planning Council’s suggested land use policies and worries that Sustainable Thurston, marketed as a voluntary program, will eventually become mandatory.

All but one member of the Planning Council voted in favor of moving forward with Sustainable Thurston. George Barner, the representative from the Port of Olympia, voted against the plan.

“Seeing the amount of discomfort that exists around our county, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to allow more time for people to read and discuss what’s happening,” Barner said. “Otherwise we’re going to have a lot of problems when it goes to the jurisdictions.”

Bob Isom, representing Yelm — the city where there is the most vocal opposition to Sustainable Thurston’s implementation — offered cautious support for the plan.

“I’m going to vote for this today — that’s no guarantee as to what my City Council is going to do — but I am going to support it based on hard work that’s gone on, as well as the fact that I don’t believe local governments will lose local control,” he said. “Should I be around when that starts to happen, I will be one of the biggest screamers anyone has ever heard.”

Thurston County Commissioner and Planning Chairwoman Sandra Romero, on the other hand, said the plan is not enough.

“I’ve been frustrated because we just can’t make progress at the pace we need to to keep the county healthy,” Romero said. “It doesn’t go far enough, but it sets the framework to do better planning.

Prior to the vote, attendees commented for almost an hour.

In developing the plan, 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, goals to be reached by 2035 and the first steps needed to reach them.

In land using planning — the hot-button issue — the planners set a goal of limiting new housing in rural areas. The planners wrote that they 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.

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