Do over: Council to push back CAO startup date to March 31

The long and winding road for the county critical areas ordinances is approaching a milestone, but the end is far from sight.

If the County Council follows the plan it announced at the Feb. 4 council meeting, the date that the ordinances will go into effect will be moved from March 1 to March 31.

If the CAO takes effect March 31, plans and permit applications filed before March 31 will be considered under the laws and regulations in effect before the CAO updates were passed in 2012. After March 31, plans and applications will be considered under the new law, including the new amendments presently being considered and which are expected to be approved March 5.

The council will vote on Feb. 11 to move the effective date so that Bob Jarman, who has been hospitalized with a bacterial virus, can return to the council to participate and vote on the package of CAO amendments now before the council. The amendments address the order issued in September 2013 by the state Growth Management Hearings Board, which portions of the CAO did not comply with state law. That order followed petitions for review of the CAO by the Common Sense Alliance, Friends of the San Juans and others.

That GMHB order was itself appealed to the San Juan County Superior Court.

The public hearing on the amendments that started on Feb. 4 will continue on Feb. 11, when the council will accept further public testimony and begin consideration of the amendments. Final council action is scheduled for March 5.

The council and the county prosecuting attorney’s office are designing the amendments now under consideration to satisfy the GMHB, which must decide if the CAO as amended is “in compliance” with the requirements of the Growth Management Act. The original update was enacted by the six-person council in late 2012 with an effective date in early 2013, but the three-member council elected in November 2012 extended the effective date until March 1, 2014 to allow the appeals to go forward.

The present schedule calls for the council to file its amendments with the growth board on March 19. Objections to the amendments must be filed with the GMHB by Apr. 2 and responses to the objections must be filed by Apr. 14. The final growth board compliance hearing is scheduled for Apr. 24, possibly in Friday Harbor.

The growth board can reject the council’s amendments and send the CAO back to the county for further action, although that is not an expected result. If the GMHB approves the county amendments, that decision can be appealed a second time to the San Juan County Superior Court. Meanwhile, the first appeal of the GMHB to the San Juan County Superior Court is scheduled for a hearing on the merits on March 19, which will be followed within weeks by a decision by Judge Don Eaton.

After that decision, any party can appeal to the state Court of Appeals and then to the state Supreme Court. Final resolution may be two or three years away.