As the wife of John Evans, three-term County Commissioner 1992-2003, I have some insight on how difficult it can be for elected officials to reach a reasonable decision on planning and land use regulation in San Juan County.
John’s term in office saw the implementation of the Growth Management Act (approved by the previous commissioners) and the drafting of the Unified Development Code that implemented the new GMA Comprehensive Plan.
John and his fellow commissioners worked hard to be sure that the regulations in the new UDC made sense for the county staff to implement and were understandable for the citizen applicants. They had a lot of help; a highly qualified UDC citizens committee which met weekly for months, the prosecuting attorney, Randy Gaylord and planning director, Laura Arnold.
The current UDC, that came from this collaborative process, has worked for the last decade because the three commissioners made the effort and took the time to be sure the regulations made sense and supported the Comprehensive Plan. The council’s Critical Areas Ordinance does neither.
The current County Council has taken a different approach. They have created a totally new critical areas ordinance with little or no “testing” to understand how the CAO can be implemented or affect applicants. The new 115 pages of rules, regulations and definitions are open to wide interpretation. The CAO is a lawyer’s dream; vague and arbitrary.
In the process of creating the CAO, the council held three-member closed CAO meetings. Those closed meetings are now the subject of a legal challenge from the Citizen Alliance for Property Rights for failure to comply with the Washington state Open Public Meetings Act.
The council has been told by individual citizens, Common Sense Alliance, CAPR and even the Friends that the CAO is a mess. No matter.
The council is determined to pass their CAO before the end of the year, warts and all. What a legacy they are creating for themselves and what a liability for the citizens of San Juan County.