Monday, February 19, 2007

Critical areas rewrite enters home stretch

The following article appeared in the February 19, 2007 Jefferson County edition of the Peninsula Daily News.

Critical areas rewrite enters home stretch
Draft expected Thursday with dissent report

By Evan Cael
Peninsula Daily News

PORT HADLOCK — A group of volunteers charged with suggesting changes to Jefferson County law that affects environmentally sensitive areas such as wetlands are preparing to write their final recommendations.

Four members of the 18-member critical areas panel don't agree with the majority and plan to issue a minority report on Thursday.

Also on Thursday, the panel will select a subcommittee to tackle writing the group's recommendations in legalese - without help it said was expected from the county Department of Community Development.

The meeting will be at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Washington State Extension Learning Center Madrona Room, Shold Business Park, 201 W. Patison in Port Hadlock.

"Jefferson County has not fulfilled its part of the bargain," said Ken Brooks, a wetlands scientist on the panel, last Thursday.

"I move that we establish a code writing subcommittee to do the county's work."

The advisory group, which includes four planning commissioners, was formed in August after a critical areas ordinance proposed in May drew public criticism.

The biggest outcry was against a portion of the law that would change the buffer zones around wetlands.

In many cases, the required buffer zone around wetlands would be larger than had been legally required before, thus cutting the amount of private property that could be developed.

Once the Planning Commission has the advisory group's recommendations, it will go over them and put together its own recommendation to the Jefferson County board of commissioners.

The commissioners have a mid-October deadline to adopt the revisions to the critical areas ordinance.

Jefferson County Commissioner John Austin, D-Port Ludlow — one of three commissioners who will consider the final version of the legal changes — said that the minority report "might well be" more representative of all county residents than the majority report.

Austin said last week that the committee itself was not representative of the county.

"It was basically selected by Jim Hagen during a public meeting," said Austin, a Democrat.

"I don't know if [the committee] represents the majority of citizens in the county."

Hagen, a Republican, is the Planning Commission chairman and the chairman of the critical areas subcommittee.

Hagen said that sufficient notice was given about the Aug. 2 Planning Commission meeting at which the volunteers were chosen.

Hagen said he chose everyone who volunteered.

"I think it's very representative," Hagen said of the committee.
"It was based on the public response to this issue, which is really the only definitive way to judge it."

Wants help

The critical areas group agreed to take on the task of writings its recommendations “in code” — language appropriate for a legal ordinance.

The advisory group — which has been meeting weekly since Aug. 10 — is expected to deliver its recommendations to the full nine-member Jefferson County Planning Commission by April 1.

But a contracted worker to assist the group in writing the recommendations in “code language” will not be available until March, said Brent Butler, lead planner with the Department of Community Development.

Two weeks would not be enough time, the group decided.

So members voted to do the job themselves and form a code writing subcommittee.

Austin said he didn’t believe the committee needs to write the recommendations in code language.

“I can see why, with all the time they’ve put in, there’d be e pretty low threshold for frustration,” Austin said.

But, “their mission is to advise the Planning Commission, not produce code in its polished form.”

“It’s possible that they’re feeling they’re being required to do more than they’re actually required to do.”

Al Scalf, director of the Department of Community Development, said the reason he plans to hire a contracted worker to help the critical areas advisory group write code is because his department is understaffed and already devotes 112 hours a month to the critical areas group.

The person he had in mind, Eric Toews with Cascadia Planning, won’t be available until mid-March, he said.

Another contracted expert might become available sooner, but, Scalf said, he is not counting on it.


Reporter Evan Cael can be reached at 360-385-2335


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