CAO: setting the record straight | Guest Column
February 14, 2012 · Updated 4:23 PM
By Janet Alderton
Misinformation is alarming many people in our community.
Compared to most counties and cities in our state, our critical areas ordinance update is very property-rights oriented. Talk to your County Council representative about your specific concerns. I’ll address some common misconceptions below.
“No one has shown that our current CAO rules do not adequately protect the functions and values of our critical areas.” — Peg Manning Jan. 6, 2012
Correction: “The number of species listed as threatened or endangered or which are candidates for listing in the Salish Sea almost doubled in just two years.” The SeaDoc Society: http://www.seadocsociety.org/species-of-concern-2011
“A substantial number of the privately owned parcels in the county (I have heard estimates approaching 50 percent) are undeveloped. The proposed changes, which do not ‘water down’ the existing CAO but substantially increase its burdens, would keep many, if not most, of them from being ‘developed’ (i.e., having a home built on them).” — Peg Manning Jan. 6, 2012
Correction: The Reasonable Use Exception will allow development of property in critical areas.
The RUE adopted by our County Council allows up to one-half an acre of development per parcel. This half-acre maximum is much larger than permitted by other counties. Our RUE permits lawns and gardens in critical areas and their buffers, but lawns and gardens are prohibited under other counties CAO Reasonable Use Exceptions.
Under our RUE, the first 2,500 square feet of development does not require mitigation. This allows owners without a lot of money to build on a parcel encumbered by a critical area or its buffer.
The county has no qualified people to help a homeowner assess critical areas on their parcel.
Correction: A grant has been funded to hire a wetlands expert to help property owners locate wetlands on their land and classify their importance.
Non-conforming is being made more restrictive.
Correction: The non-conforming provisions are being made less restrictive.
Currently, if a house is destroyed more than 75 percent, it can only be rebuilt in a location that conforms to the existing codes. Under the new regulation, your house could be destroyed 100 percent (or less) and still be rebuilt in its original location. Non-conforming uses can continue and even be changed.
“...if you disturb the soil, cut brush you need the county’s permission.” — John Evans, Letter to the Editor, Feb. 1, 2012, The Journal.
Correction: On Jan. 24, 2012, council members Patty Miller, Richard Fralick, Rich Peterson, and Jamie Stephens voted to add “or replacement of existing uses” to the activities that are exempt from CAO regulations. “Exemptions to critical area regulations are necessary to ensure reasonable and cost effective administration of the regulations.”
No permit would be required to replace an existing use with a new use as long as, “...soil erosion is controlled, disturbed areas are stabilized, and that actions do not have an additional adverse effect on critical area functions and values;”
The phrases quoted above are from the general section of the CAO update. The property owner decides when to seek planning permission.
— Orcas Island’s Janet Alderton, a retired biologist who closely follows the CAO update process, regularly attends meetings of the County Council and Planning Commission related to critical areas.