Thurston County has scheduled four open houses at which planners will answer questions and listen to concerns about proposed tougher development regulations on or near environmentally sensitive lands.
The first open house is set for 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound.
The proposed update to the critical-areas ordinance, which was adopted in 1994, could go before the county commissioners by early next year. The goal is to protect the areas and people living in them, county planning director Scott Clark said.
Those likely to be affected by the amendments are the 81,000 people living in unincorporated Thurston County – a 634-square-mile area that could see its population spike to more than 100,000 by 2030, according to county staff members.
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Critical areas that would be affected by changes to the Growth Management Act include aquifer-recharge areas, frequently flooded areas, geologically hazardous areas, and wetlands and fish and wildlife habitat-conservation areas, such as prairies.
Buffers or setbacks, whether for environmental or personal safety reasons, have been one of the most discussed changes in the proposed ordinance update.
Wetland buffers would remain 50 to 300 feet, but the calculation method would change to provide more flexibility, senior planner Cynthia Wilson said.
Proposed amendments include increased buffers on stream and marine shorelines and below hazardous areas.
Other major changes include:
• Restricting building in flood ways, in floodplains and on land with high groundwater flooding.
• Requiring property owners to supply geologic assessment when applying for structure, well or septic system permit if hazardous conditions, such as a steep slope, are present on or near the site.
The geologic assessment is one example of how the proposed updates could cost property owners. For example, an assessment of a single-family residence on a slope could cost between $600 and $2,500, said Dave Strong, a licensed engineer and geologist who owns Bradley-Noble Geotechnical Co.
A draft of the ordinance will be made public in the first few weeks of November and could come before a public hearing at the planning commission by early December, Clark said.
In the meantime, the county has released fact sheets and frequently asked questions about the most common concerns and biggest changes. Getting all the pertinent information in a digestible format is a lesson learned from 2005, the last time the county looked at updating the ordinance. The ordinance has not been substantially amended since 1996, Wilson said.
New development will need to comply with any new requirements, according to the county.
There are no proposed changes to regulations on agricultural uses.
County planners have met with stakeholders in the areas of development, realty and agriculture to answer questions.
The county is telling property owners about programs and tax advantages that come with having property deemed a critical area, Wilson said.
As the result of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife grant, the county also is incorporating protections for its prairie and Oregon white oak ecosystems.
After the open houses, staff members will take comments to the Planning Commission, which could see the draft and hold a public hearing by the first week of December, Clark said.
Nate Hulings: 360-754-5476 firstname.lastname@example.org