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Property owners air grievances with Growth Management Act

By Jeff Rhodes
The Olympia Report

January 21, 2013

Judging from the parade of witnesses testifying on Friday before the House Local Government Committee in Olympia, many Washington residents would dispute the Wikipedia definition of Washington state’s Growth Management Act.

According to the online encyclopedia, “Rather than centralize planning and decision-making at the state level, the GMA built on Washington’s strong traditions of local government control and regional diversity.

“The GMA,” the narrative explains, “established state goals, set deadlines for compliance, offered direction on how to prepare local comprehensive plans and regulations and set forth requirements for early and continuous public participation. Within the framework provided by the mandates of the Act, local governments have many choices regarding the specific content of comprehensive plans and implementing development regulations.”

In the view of those speaking at Friday’s hearing, however, the impetus of the GMA is anything but local.

“If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the GMA is a freeway,” said Glen Morgan, property rights manager for the Olympia-based Freedom Foundation. “I would recommend repeal of the GMA and sending decisions on land-use policy back to the local level, where they belong.”

Many Washington property owners, including those testifying at Friday’s House Local Government Committee, believe the true goal of Washington’s Growth Management Act is to discourage private property ownership and coerce people to live in designated urban growth areas rather than the suburbs.

“I think the GMA is so broken it must be suspended,” added Allyn resident Dan Griffey. “Among its other problems, it chases what few employers there are in rural areas back to the cities, and that can’t be allowed to happen. I would support anything that returns land-use to local control rather than the state.”

Created in 1990, the GMA was adopted because the Washington State Legislature found that uncoordinated and unplanned growth “posed a threat to the environment, sustainable economic development and the quality of life in Washington.”

The GMA requires state and local governments to manage Washington’s growth by identifying and protecting critical areas and natural resource lands, designating urban growth areas, preparing comprehensive plans and implementing them through capital investments and development regulations. This approach to growth management is unique among states.

Many of those testifying at Friday’s hearing, organized by 26th District Rep. Jan Angel (R-Port Orchard), believe the ideals espoused in the GMA originate even higher up than the state or even the national level.

“Washington’s GMA is the direct result of a United Nations study that concludes ownership of private property promotes social injustice because it results in the accumulation of wealth,” said Thurston County resident Robert Schilt, representing the Citizens’ Alliance for Property Rights. “Its goal is to move people out of the rural areas and pack them into apartment buildings in the city.”

“It’s not my vision; it’s the United Nations’ vision,” agreed Thurston County property owner Robin Love. “They want to discourage property rights because they believe the affluence of the United States is a threat to the planet.”

The tool of choice, most of those testifying agreed, was simply to tie up construction projects in so much red tape their developers eventually ran out of time or money.

“Land-use regulations are putting the building industry out of business in this state,” said Kitsap County resident John Taylor. “The basis of a free society is the right to own one’s own property — including land. But through abusive regulations, I believe the government is taking away not only my right to own property, but they’re actually taking money out of my pocket by reducing the value of what I own without compensating me for it.”

Taylor said he bought a parcel of land with the intention of subdividing it into building lots. But the permitting process took 10 years and thousands of dollars.

“It’s been 14 years since I bought the land, and I’ve sold exactly one lot,” he said. “I didn’t make money on this deal. I’ve only recouped a tiny portion of my investment. Why would a reasonable person put themselves through this process?”

“The GMA is just a framework to help accomplish common goals within the area of land-use planning,” countered Leonard Bauer, managing director of growth management services within the Washington State Department of Commerce. “There are certainly ongoing challenges with the legislation, but local governments work very hard to make the system work for all of our residents.”

“The GMA incorporates some goals that are very laudable,” added Eric Baker, manager of the Kitsap County Special Projects Division. “It’s the implementation of those goals that can be problematic.”

“Whatever GMA was designed to address, it’s doing more harm than good,” said Bob Benze, representing the Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners. “Those who promote these policies say the goal is a sound economy, but the truth is quite the opposite.”

“The best option is to repeal the GMA or at least allow counties to opt out,” said planning consultant William Palmer. “By design, the GMA is intended to undercut the revenues of counties in favor of cities. By driving all development to the urban areas, the cities take the plum revenue generators but not the population. The counties are then left to provide services without the revenue base to support them.”

“The GMA was developed 20 years ago and we’ve really never had a good review to say what’s working and what’s not working,” Angel concluded. “I’m hoping you’re the elected legislators that can change this.”

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