Friday, December 30, 2011

Follow Up on Permit Extensions

This is a bit of a follow up on my previous post regarding permit extensions david-versus-whatcom-county. As noted in that post David challenged Whatcom County's permit extension ordinance to the Growth Management Hearings Board. The board ruled the ordinance invalid primarily based on the lack of environmental review. Whatcom County did not review of the proposal under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).

County and City ordinances are presumed to be valid under the Growth Management Act. The only way to get a determination that an ordinance is not valid under the act is to prove that it is not valid to  the Growth Management Hearsing Board. A challenging task.

Think about it and one realizes that there may very well be significant numbers of zoning and development regulations all over the state that are presumed valid but may very well be far from meeting the intent of the Growth Management Act. The only zoning and development regulations found to be invalid are those that are successfully challenged before the Board. The ordinance has to be challenged in a timely manner; one can not decide two years after an ordinance passed to bring a challenge to the Board. And the ordinance can only be challenged by those on the record as having raised objections to the County or City.

All this means having to stay on top of the nuances of just what the zoning and or development regulations mean and how they line up with a wide range of goals in the Growth Management Act. Growth planning gets very wonky and complex and is not easily translated to political sound bites.

An interesting issue regarding the Whatcom County case of permit extensions crossed my mind. Whatcom County was by no means the only local government that passed a permit extension ordinance without an environmental review (SEPA review). The City of Bellingham did the exact same thing and even called out within the ordinance itself that the ordinance was exempt from SEPA. I heard vaguely that a number of communities did the exact same thing around the state. So while Whatcom County's permit extension ordinance was deemed invalid, the City of Bellingham's ordinance still stands as does any other county or city that did the same.

To be fair, Bellingham and other local government permit extension ordinances may not be comparable to the impacts of Whatcom County's permit extension ordinance. Geographic area alone makes a big difference. In addition, nuances within past Whatcom county permit vesting dates and old regulations were such that there were clearly a number of subdivisions that would get extensions that would allow development under old very different regulations. For example dozens of lots in the Lake Whatcom watershed that would see no restrictions on impervious areas for minimizing stormwater impacts even though impervious area rules have been in place since 1999.

Some, but not all of the impacts, of Whatcom County's permit extension ordinance were brought before the Growth Management Hearings Board during the appeal. But for other local governments that did not do SEPA on permit extension ordinances, it is hard to know what the environmental impact was as there was no SEPA review.      

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Dan,
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year!

Speaking of expired permits, have you been down to Cherry Point Gulf road recently? Wondering if they need permits to move all those ecology blocks in and out of the beach area. And I remember that the salt marsh there was once designated a Category 1 Wetland. There is definitely disturbance going on within the buffer of the saltmarsh. Love your blog! Terri