San Juan County (SJC) embarked on the road toward the creation of a Comprehensive Plan (CP) in 1992 when it elected to participate in the GMA planning process promoted by Washington State. One of the first orders of business assigned to the plan designers--citizens chosen by the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC)--was to craft a Vision Statement which would guide the development of policies and regulations that would ultimately configure the CP. That Vision Statement was completed in 1993 and was accepted by the BOCC; both the 1998 and 2000 CP characterized the Vision Statement as the "foundation of the Comprehensive Plan".
Seven years and two Hearings before the Western Board later (both of which resulted in invalidity rulings against SJC), the County continues to wrestle with Challengers to its Comprehensive Plan. The fundamental nature of the challenge brought forth by the writers of this Brief is that the CP simply does not fulfill the vision articulated in the Vision Statement. Neither the 1998 nor the 2000 CP crafts a plan, much less a process, that would or could meet even a reasonable interpretation of this vision.
As a small rural county experiencing rapid growth, SJC needs to successfully tackle problems that have not been heretofore resolved by similar communities, lest it join lock step in simply collapsing before powerful forces that have elsewhere, and will here, obliterate the goals and objectives of our community-sanctioned vision. Always unspoken, yet the throbbing-hammered-thumb sub-text of the central controversy fought to date before the Western Board, is the role that population growth plays within the CP. The variety of rural densities argument, the preservation of rural character argument, the guest house land use policy argument, the yet to be heard arguments over rural clusters, tenants in common and open space bonuses, all of these are placeholders, i.e., proxies, for the concern about the impacts of the population growth experienced, and projected, for SJC. The announced decision to reconsider the designation of resource lands, with the clear intention of de-designating those lands to "rural" lands thus permitting the assignment of a higher density to those lands, looms as a storm cloud on this population growth horizon. The BOCC, imaginably more sensitive to local and loud political voices than it is to distant and quieter GMA pronouncements, surely wishes fervently that the GMA, the Western Board, or the Challengers would simply, one and all, fold their tents and disappear.
Many of the specific issues mentioned above, which exist because they have been identified either in the WAC's or in caselaw as GMA compliant/non-compliant issues, are discussed in the briefs written by the team of Klein, Campbell, Symons, Johnson and Bahrych because they are cornerstones in the foundation of the position which hopes to demonstrate that their concern, i.e., our collective concern, is not about "just" the preservation of rural character, as if it were an isolated and isolatable component of the CP, or "just" about variety of rural densities. These are no more individually extractable from the corpus of SJC's CP than blood or bones could be inconsequentially extracted from a human. The issue, largely phrased in terms of rural and resource land densities, is an attempt to marry the Vision Statement with GMA in objecting to the CP. Challengers, for example, do not object to guest houses per se. They object to the position that guest houses have no density impact, which, freely translated, means they object to guest houses as having no population impact.
SJC advances the position that population impacts are experienced simply as visual impacts, and that the conservation subdivision regulations, or the open space regulations, adequately address these impacts. The emperor, called population, is being clothed by arguments over density (rural character, average rural density, etc.), and by accessories--belts, jewelery, scarves--called guest houses, or rural clusters, or tenants in common. By the nature of the playing field and the rules, the Challengers must argue over these accessories, and even, more broadly, the clothes.
The Vision Statement attempts to characterize the emperor's fiefdom, the size, scope, qualities and processes that inform the reasons why so many have moved here, continue to move here, and certainly come to visit here. The challenge faced by the Challengers is to convince a sufficient majority that their goal is not devisiveness and obstructionism, but protection of a resource that is irreparably threatened by insufficiently considered consequences.
© 2001 joe symons