The following description presents an idea, that is, a proposed set of basic policies that would frame a comprehensive plan (CP) for San Juan County (SJC). This framework was developed in order to craft a plan that would conform to the state's Growth Mangaement Act (GMA), the Western Washington Growth Management Hearing Board's (WWGMHB) Final Decision and Order (FDO), and the Vision Statement of the existing SJC plan.
The Vision Statement calls for managing growth in SJC at a relatively slow rate so that the county is able to preserve its present quality of life, our economy, our natural environment and rural character, and our diverse communities. (note 1)
The Vision Statement inherently sets a 'standard' for the community that defines a quality of life desired by the residents; the standard is degraded as the population increases. Consequently, the plan that has been crafted here includes a maximum county population that is consistent with the goals and intent of the Vision Statement.
GMA calls for concentrating new growth in activity centers, and for reducing sprawl in rural areas. .
The FDO requires that densities in SJC be revised to meet GMA goals to avoid sprawl, and further requires that densities be revised to insure that the resulting CP is consistent with the Vision Statement. In addition, the CP is required to implement an affordable housing element.
San Juan County proposes to develop at least two plans, Plan A and Plan B, and make these plans available to the public for an advisory vote in the Spring of 2000; they may also craft a 3rd plan (Plan C). The Plan that follows, which is to be called SGP (for Smart Growth Plan), would also be submitted for the public's review and consideration.
SGP goes directly to the heart of the difficult issues presented in the confluence of the Vision Statement, the current set of property owner expectations about density, the GMA and the Western Board's FDO, and addresses many fundamental complexities by making the following no-nonsense policies regarding land use planning in the county.
First, SGP chooses an annual growth rate for single family dwellings (SFD's) that cannot be exceeded. The growth rate chosen is that mandated by the Office of Financial Management (OFM), i.e., 2.5%. (OFM is mandated by GMA to set each county's planned growth rate.) This growth rate is the rate that the state insists that SJC demonstrate, in its Comprehensive Plan (CP), that it has accommodated, i.e., 'planned' for. The actual growth rate in SJC is double the OFM rate. SGP limits the growth we actually take to the growth we are required to take. The 2.5% growth rate is considered consistent with the growth rate implied in the Vision Statement (ie., slow). In addition, 2.5% is consistent with the county's growth rate assumptions embedded in the 1998 CP (see Appendix 1).
Second, SGP chooses a maximum buildout population that is consistent with the Vision Statement. The population chosen is double the current population (estimated at about 13000), i.e., a buildout (not to be exceeded) maximum population of 26,000 for the county. Note: the maximum population for any of SJC's proposed plans has not been determined at the time of this writing; the most restrictive plan (Plan C) that is currently being considered as an option by the county may recommend no further subdivision of any land. In this case, and assuming no allowance for the population attributable to existing or future guest houses, the buildout population would be calculated as the total number of existing legal parcels (14,000) times the average occupancy rate of 2.25 persons per household, or 31,500.
Third, SGP allocates the growth in population to two specific categories of location: activity centers and rural areas. This allocation is necessary for implementation of the plan in a manner consistent with GMA requirements and the Vision Statement. While most other plans simply show that they have allowed 'space' for growth in both activity center and rural areas, SGP requires that growth actually occur where it is planned. Given that SJC is largely a rural county, SGP provides that 50% of the new population growth is to occur in rural areas, and the remaining 50% of population growth is to occur in existing and new Activity Centers. (More urban counties might have population growth allocations in these categories of 10% and 90%, respectively.) The existing pattern of development in SJC places approximately 20% of the current population in the Activity Centers (AC's) and 80% in rural areas. In the last few years, the percentage of residential building permits issued by SJC is split between rural areas (92%) and AC's (8%). The purpose of choosing a 50/50 split for SGP's allocation between rural and urban growth is to meet the GMA requirement to reduce sprawl, to preserve the threatened rural character of our rapidly developing rural lands and to concentrate growth efficiently. The mechanism to do this is described in the following paragraph. (Note 2)
Fourth, SGP directly links the Plan to the issuance of building permits. That is, no building permit may be issued by the county unless it conforms to the requirements of the Plan. Currently, there is no CP-based restriction on the issuance of building permits in SJC, either by number or location. SGP would insure that no building permit was issued unless it met the specific numerical and locational requirements outlined above.
Fifth, SGP recognizes that while these goals are preferred by a majority of county landowners, residents and visitors to the county, they nevertheless represent a major new direction that will cause disruption in expectations that were created by the county's decision, in violation of GMA, to ignore the density issue when rewriting the current CP. SJC is mandated to produce a 'density map' that will meet the requirements of the FDO as well as the Vision Statement. SGP therefore anticipates a density map that specifies a buildout population of 52,000 residents. This is of course contradictory to the preferred maximum buildout population of 26,000 residents. However, the county's existing CP density map supports a buildout population of 175,000 people, so there will be a substantial decrease in the available densities to bring the density map down to 52,000; this will be done, this must be done, by the county via rural area downzoning and AC rezoning. The bottom line here is that no one wants downzoning and yet no one wants 175,000 people. To avoid the greater disruption of expectations that would result by downzoning to a population of 26,000, SGP, then, would reduce the population potential of the 52.000 residents inherent in the SGP density map to the buildout population of 26,000 residents by a multi-layered mechanism designed to retire, coincident with the issuance of building permits, a proportional number of these 'excess' development rights (DR's) that exist in the density map. These 'purchase and/or retire' mechanisms help shift the burden of downzoning off the shoulders of property owners onto a blend of stakeholders who want the county to stay small and grow slowly. The strategy here is to exercise planned DR's (which will increase the population) simultaneously while we retire 'excess' DR's (intended to reduce future population) in a systematic way so that at the time the the final or last planned DR is exercised (through the issuance of a building permit) the county will have simultaneously retired the last remaining 'excess' DRs. Further discussion of the details of the downzoning and DR elimination mechanisms is presented below. (Note 3)
To accomplish these objectives, SGP uses an annual uniform population growth of 2.5% during the twenty-year planning period from 2000 to 2020. Starting with a SJC-determined base population of 13877 (Table 3, appendix 1, CP), the estimated population at the end of 20 years at 2.5%/year is 22739, resulting in a forecast population growth over the period of 8862. The average growth per year is 8862 divided by 20 or 443 people per year. For purposes of this presentation, the plan will assume 444 new residents per year and an occupancy rate for single-family dwelling (SFD) of 2 (not 2.25 per the existing CP) persons/household. Consequently, the plan would permit 222 new SFD's per year for each year of the 20 year planning period. The permits for these would be issued to applicants on a county-wide basis with half allocated to existing or proposed Activity Centers and half allocated to rural and resource lands. The permits would be initially issued as ''permit application rights" (PAR's) which would allow the holder of the right to submit a completed permit application to the permit center for approval of a building permit. The granting of this application would depend upon compliance with the Uniform Building Code (UBC) requirements as adopted by SJC and the Unified Development Code (UDC), which are the SJC regulations that impliment the CP. These Permit Application Rights, again, abbreviated as PAR's, would be allocated to applicants from the two pools (one urban, one rural) as follows:
1. 25% by lottery, with one entry per legal parcel
2. 25% on first-come, first-served basis, with one request per legal parcel. This list would carry over from year to year for the 20-year period.
3 25% by auction, with one entry per legal parcel. The proceeds of the auction would be used for affordable housing, to purchase development rights, to extinguish development rights, and so forth
4 25% for affordable housing, with flexibility between years (to allow for multifamily and/or multi-dwelling projects)
In the above example, 111 PAR's would be available to applicants per year for applications arising in activity centers, and another 111 PAR's per year would be available for applications from property owners in non-activity center areas of the county. Within these 2 categories of applications, 25% of 111, or 28 applications, would be granted to the pool of applicants in each of the 4 areas indicated above (lottery, first come, auction, affordable housing).
The policies inherent in the construction of 4 different mechanisms for obtaining a PAR by an applicant are as follows:
The lottery mechanism creates a level playing field. Any applicant, regardless of how long he or she has been in the county, or regardless of his or her economic circumstances, can enter the lottery. Details on lottery administration are being developed to promote and insure fairness.
The first come first served mechanism insures that an applicant who applies will neither need to be 'lucky' (via the lottery) or 'rich' (via the auction) to obtain a PAR. Long time residents or property owners who know that down the road sometime they'd like to build can enter their name in this list and as the years tick by, their name will rise to the top. Details on first come, first served administration are being developed to promote and insure fairness.
The auction mechanism allows the county to obtain significant funds to implement purposes of this Plan by permitting a bidding war to occur for a certain number of PARs. The reality is that many applicants have significant funds and wish to build soon. This mechanism gives them an opportunity to obtain a PAR soon while giving the county resources to help implement resource-dependent elements of the plan.
The affordable housing mechanism reflects a policy decision that the county have a substantial population that does not have very high levels of income in order to maintain community diversity. 25% of the PAR's were thus allocated to affordable housing to insure that the county did not lose a historically rich component of diversity. Current demographics suggest that SJC is becoming a county of exceedingly economically rich people, and in the process rapidly losing diversity. SGP insures that we, as stewards of our future, give serious weight to crafting a long term supply of affordable housing. GMA requires provision of affordable housing for all economic segments of the population. (We must, as a community, arrive at a consensus definition of the term 'affordable housing'; the definition of this term is beyond the scope of the draft SGP).
Application fees for each of the 'pools' within which an applicant might apply will be set to cover the costs of administration of the distribution of the PAR's, insuring that the system pay for itself from fees by those individuals whose new homes will impact the county. All proceeds from the auction will be used to support specified public purposes of the plan, such as affordable housing and purchase and retirement of extra development potential that may exist in the density allocations shown on the map.
Development rights would be non-transferable to another person and tied to a specific legal parcel. The purpose of these policies is to minimize, or eliminate, speculative activity. One development right would be required for each single-family residential structure or guest house to be built on a parcel. Each development right would be subject to the density restrictions on the legal parcel involved. An applicant who receives a PAR from any one of the possible mechanisms he/she chooses to participate in will have his/her applications removed from any of the other mechanisms entered for that particular parcel. For example, if an applicant wishes to increase his/her chances by entering both the lottery and the first come, first served mechanisms, and, say, wins a PAR from the lottery, his/her application that remained in the 'first come first served' list will be removed.
In addition to rules about the number of applications that an applicant may file in each category per day or per time period, PAR's may be 'ranked' within the first come/first served category in order to meet public purposes. In this scheme, ranking would be based on publicly determined criteria and the applicant would evaluate his or her application according to the criteria, submitting the ranking 'points' with his/her application. For example, points might be assigned according to the size of the intended structure (high points for low square foot structures, low points for high square footage structures); other criteria might be utilized, such as impact on water table, use of local contractors and/or suppliers, etc. The resulting applications would then be put in order by points, and, for any given day when applications came in, the first applicants placed on the list would be not simply be in the order by which the first envelope was opened by the permit staff, but those applications with the highest points. In case of multiple applications that might arrive on any given day with the same number of points, the applications would be chosen to be placed on the list randomly until they had been exhausted, and then those applications with lower points would be added to the list. The purpose of this scheme would be to fairly place applications on the list during 'boom' times when, as it might be anticipated, the permit center might be 'swamped' by a whole lot of applications arriving simultaneously. (Note 4)
Impact fees, which might well be substantial (national averages are in the 20 to 30 thousand dollars per SFD) would be charged to implement the policy that development should pay its own way, rather than burdening existing taxpayers with new development costs. These fees would be calculated based on actual increases in the county's infrastructure and other costs resulting from single-family residential development. Impact fees would be waived or adjusted for affordable housing. Failure to impose an impact fee would continue our present policy in which existing residents subsidize new development by shouldering an ever increasing tax burden. Requiring new development to pay its own way is a growth neutral policy, not a penalty.
The buildout population of 26,000 residents is estimated to occur in about 2029. This ultimate population is roughly twice the current residential population and roughly the same as the peak population in August today.
Downzoning and DR elimination mechanisms:
In order to limit SJC's population to 26,000, SGP would eliminate 'excess' density-map allocated development rights by purchase (with auction and other proceeds), by voluntary extinguishment (for example, via the San Juan Preservation Trust), by adoption of minimum lots sizes in Natural and Conservancy designations to 20 acres and in Rural Farm Forest to 10 acres, by adoption of the minimum lots sizes mandated in the WWGHB Final Decision and Order, and by other mechanisms to be developed. (Note 5)
SGP addresses the following 4 fundamental questions:
1. How big will SJC get?
2. How fast will it get there?
3. Where will the new population go?
4. How will the preservation of community diversity be achieved?
The solutions proposed in SGP meet the FDO, the GMA and the Vision Statement criteria. The solutions are fair, offer options, spread the costs of change among a broad group of stakeholders, make common sense, and achieve desired public purposes in a systematic, understandable and predictable process. Citizens have declared their desire to create a plan which will not destroy the reasons they came here. The greatest threat to the future of SJC comes from the impacts of rapid and unbounded growth of population. SGP creates fair and appropriate guidelines to move SJC toward a desirable and citizen-chosen future.
Members of the SGP design team:
Notes: (notes written by Maile Johnson)
1. I suggest adding the word economy because (1) I believe that some in the community value this more highly than natural environment and diversity of community, that their concerns were included in the VS and are better addressed than not, and (2) because I feel it is crucial in explaining the proposed plan to contrast it with doing nothing or little. Failing to limit growth will mean rigorously escalating real property taxes for all and development to the point that the natural resources of beauty and quiet on which tourism presently thrives will be degraded or destroyed. The impact of development on real property taxes and the policy of new development paying its way through an impact fee deserves careful explanation. Polls in other communities seem to show that people do not support subsidizing growth with a tax burden on existing residents. Existing residents pay the vast majority of the $20,000-$30,000 per residence infrastructure cost since the new residents are by definition a tiny proportion of the taxed population. I believe impact fees should be explained to be a growth neutral policy as opposed to the present growth subsidy.
2. Part of the explanatory material in mailings and meetings needs to include the fact that a plan that fails to meet GMA goals is vulnerable to invalidation again.
4 Boulder implemented and subsequently discontinued the ranking of applications for SFD permits because the public perception was that the bureaucracy was excessive, wasteful and accomplished little. Overly large, wasteful, and insensitive construction certainly penalizes the community with loss of aesthetic value, harmful ecological impact and wasted resources but I think this provision has high potential for enraging those most concerned with "property rights" and those who loathe bureaucratic red tape. Ranking seems even more valuable for commercial than for residential development where the projects are larger. Economic impacts, number and type of jobs, noise and pollution impacts, degradation of water quality and quantity, amount of solid waste generated, amount of soil covered with impermeable surface etc. can be ranked. Perhaps any ranking should wait for a subsequent election, once the basic principals of ending growth subsidies and limiting rate and amount of growth have been established.