Rural Commercial and Rual Industrial Planning Update

by Bill Palmer 

Outside Urban Growth

Early this year, in late January and early February, Kitsap County accepted Site Specific Comprehensive Plan Amendment / Rezone applications for commercial and industrial proposals lying outside the Urban Growth Areas (UGA) in Rural areas.   At the time of application the Department of Community Development encouraged applicants to consider applying for an Industrial Limited Area of More Intense Rural Development (ILAMRID).   The State’s Growth Management Act (GMA) has provisions for LAMRIDs that allow counties and cities to recognize places outside the UGAs where urban services are present and where patterns of development have characteristics like those found in Urban Areas. 

The Concept

The concept behind the Industrial LAMRIDs was that they could be used to allow expansion of existing rural located industrial zoning and still maintain consistency with GMA.   Also at issue was/is the County adopted policy RL- 8 which at present seems to prohibit expansion of rural located commercial and industrial.   This policy was added to the County’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan in December of 2006 and would have to be amended before any of the “site specifics” could be approved.   Also significant, but not readily apparent in February was the fact that all existing rural commercial and industrial zoning is affected by the limitations of Policy RL-8. 

What Took Place

The foregoing provides the context to understand what took place in late May of this year.   That is the time when the DCD staff took the initiative to construct two new zones to be added to the County’s Zoning Ordinance.   The zones were Rural Commercial and Rural Industrial.

These zones were created on the premise that the County needed to make a distinction between what could take place in a rural environment versus those use allowances in an urban area.   The idea was that by implementing these new zones, the issue of expansion of commercial and industrial development within rural areas would be limited to that “appropriate” to the service levels found in rural areas, i.e. well water, on-site sewage disposal and local collector roads.   Staff did recognize as well that policy RL-8 would still have to be amended because in its present form it is very restrictive and would not allow for expanded zoning even with the imposition of the Rural Commercial and Rural Industrial Zones.   Thus, staff prepared revised policy language to modify  RL-8. Even though the people who had submitted “Site Specific” amendment applications were notified of a need to make changes in their applications to allow the new but un-adopted zones to be substituted for the commercial and industrial zoning contained in their amendment submittals, few other people knew about the proposed changes in zoning contemplated by staff. Unbeknownst to most of the business owners and property owners with commercial and industrially zoned property in rural areas, these new zones were to replace their existing zoning.  That fact escaped the notice of most every one, even the County Planning Commission. 

The Planning Commission considered the new zone proposals in their work-study session in July prior to scheduling the August 11th public hearing to adopt the zones.  The night of the public hearing several business owners testified before the Planning Commission to complain that the new zones would adversely affect their ability to continue to conduct business and would certainly negatively impact their business plans if they were interrupted for a time and had to be re-established or expanded.  DCD staff had a different opinion, but it was clear from the testimony given that not much analysis had been undertaken prior to the public hearing to evaluate potential impacts on those with existing business and those holding zoned property for which there is an inherent value.  Also it was clear that there had been no prior vetting of the proposed zone provisions with “stake holder” groups to review the contents of the zone before a public hearing was scheduled.

Action? 

No action was taken by the Planning Commission on the proposed zones.  Instead they postponed action until September 15, 2009 at which time they would continue to take testimony from interested citizens, property and business owners.  Prior to the vote of the Commission to continue the public hearing, DCD staff assured the Commission that they would empanel stakeholder groups to review the proposed zones. 

A meeting with DCD Permit Advisory Group was scheduled for August 27th.  The committee was joined by several industrial business owners and others who testified at the Planning Commission public hearing.  Much discussion ensued regarding the proposed zones and whether such zoning was the best approach to solve the problem of Policy RL-8 and the spectra of non-compliance with GMA.

 At the conclusion of the Advisory Group meeting, it was decided to abandon the process to adopt the proposed Rural Commercial and Rural Industrial Zones.  Instead, a four point program was structured which would address the following issues: 

  1. Land use intensity for rural situated commercial and industrially zoned areas.  The resolution of this issue would lead to limitations in the table of allowable uses within the scope of the existing commercial and industrial zones.  A key component of the new “intensity” criteria will include employment generation.
  2. The provisions for continuation and expansion of non-conforming uses and buildings would be evaluated and changed so that a) uses would not be phased out, but allowed to continue for long periods of time, and b) present expansion limitations on uses and buildings would be increased.
  3. Where possible, the Rural LAMIRD provisions of GMA would be utilized to create areas where industrial and commercial growth can continue in a sustained fashion over time.  This particular issue when examined will include the possible use of the “sub area planning process” for a separate plan amendment schedule than allowed in the “site specific” amendment process.
  4. The “Rural Element” of the 2006 adopted Comprehensive Plan will be examined to provide language and policy recommendations that better characterize what constitutes rural development and rural community areas.  This effort will not be likely enfolded into the County’s Comprehensive Plan until some time in 2011 when the County completes its mandatory update process.  Never-the-less there is a present need for this language to buttress the recommendations that will flow out of the work effort for point one.  Just as important, the public, the staff, and elected officials all may gain a better understanding as to what “rural” means in the context of Kitsap County’s geographic area.

The DCD Permit Advisory Group has allocated sixty (60) days to prepare its recommendations for this four point program.  One consequence of the advisory groups work effort and drafting schedule means that the Planning Commission will terminate the public hearing on the proposed zone. A secondary consequence means that the “site specific” plan amendment proposals cannot proceed to public hearing until the Advisory Groups work is complete and there is opportunity to evaluate their material in the public review and public hearing processes.  Thus, it will be sometime next year before these 2009 amendment proposals can be adopted.

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