Hearing on rural clusters set for Jan. 7

ARLINGTON — Rural cluster subdivisions … you either love them or hate them.

At one of two meetings on 18 potential amendments to Ordinance 08-087 relating to Rural Cluster Subdivisions the director of Snohomish County’s Planning and Development Craig Ladiser made it clear they weren’t looking for input.

“We won’t be taking testimony tonight,” Ladiser told a crowd of more than 60 people at Pioneer Hall in Arlington Wednesday, Dec. 10.

“Our purpose here is to try and help you understand the amendments,” he said.

Amendments range from landscaping requirements and site plan requirements to buffers and bonus densities.

Testimony will be taken, however, through the end of the County Council’s Public Hearing which is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m., Jan. 7, 2009.

The amendments were introduced earlier this fall as a result of the county’s Rural Lands Project, said County Councilman John Koster.

“During the tremendous fast-paced growth, we got some push back on some of the rural clusters and rural development,” Koster said.

As a result, the county planned an extensive public outreach program and held meetings all around the county during late spring and early summer, asking residents what they want rural Snohomish County to look like.

As a result of the public outreach, the county’s policy on density advantages tied with rural cluster subdivisions was brought into question, Koster said.

Thus the county is proposing 18 amendments.

Rural cluster subdivisions were established in the early 1990s, along with the Growth Management Act, providing the opportunity for property owners and developers to build extra density in exchange for leaving open space.

During the rural lands project, many participants question the logic of putting urban-like developments in rural areas.

While some rural property owners who felt they had lost value on their land through the critical areas ordinance last year see these amendments leading to even more loss, others see the need to be aware of the impact of growth on the environment.

One attendee at the Pioneer Hall meeting, Bill Best recognizes that people have the right to subdivide and develop their property, but he is concerned about the impact of the increased density.

“We need to be aware of a development’s impact on the water supply and traffic,” he said.

Noel Higa, of Ronin Northwest, noted the amount of open space now kept in perpetuity as a result of rural cluster subdivisions. With 65 percent of all rural lands developed in rural clusters in the past 15 years, that’s about 800 of the 1,100 developed acres, Higa suggested.

Some argued that RCSs are better than a single house on five acres because it requires less roads, but others argued that five-acre lots are more rural.

“The challenge here is to find a balance between the rights of property owners, and their obligations to the neighbors and neighborhood,” Koster concluded.

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