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Snowden Council Appeals County's Echo Glen Rezone

Property owners express ire with county planning commission and vote to appeal

With local property owners expressing ire with the Klickitat County Planning Commission, the Snowden Community Council unanimously voted to appeal the Planning Commission's approval of the rezoning of an 80-acre parcel in Snowden.

The decision to appeal was reached during the Community Council's Sept. 4 meeting.

The owner of the acreage is Louis Huszar, who is a member of the Snowden Community Council.

On Aug. 24, the Klickitat County Planning Commission voted 5-0 to approve Huszar's rezoning application. The decision OKs Huszar's application to rezone his property from its existing "extensive agriculture and forest resource" zoning to "general rural."

Huszar may divide the land into five-acre parcels, for possible residential development.

Chris Connolly, president of the Community Council, said she believed it was important to take a stand against the county's actions.

"I feel it is important that we continue to have some local control," Connolly said. "The county is always bent on demanding local control, but we can't get any more local than this. Don't we have some say in how our community is governed?"

At the Wednesday evening meeting, council members and property owners in the area expressed displeasure with the Planning Commission's decision.

Dawn Stover, a member of the Community Council, pointed out that the county had "selectively ignored" the goals the Snowden Community Council put forward in its 1984 comprehensive plan, including a stated goal of trying to protect farmland and timberland.

"We have to protect our agricultural and resource lands. That is one of our goals as a council," said Stover. "We would like to support the ability to continue with traditional uses, instead of having everything converted to residential. One guideline the Planning Commission is supposed to follow the community's comp plan, but they just dismissed it by saying it's out of date."

"If they apply our goals, they can see we want to keep the rural character of the community," added council member Tom Butler. "We were left out of the whole process, and they said, `Hey, we're just going to change their zoning, no problem.'"

Huszar said economics forced him to request the change in zoning on his property.

Most of the acreage included in the rezoning application, which is off Snowden Road and Echo Glen Road, had been farmed for decades as a pear orchard. However, with farm prices falling, Huszar realized he could not continue to absorb losses to keep the orchard in business.

"This is the bottom line," Huszar said. "This kind of agriculture is dead. I don't make enough to pay the costs of production, and this is what I've faced for years. Talk to the fruit companies. There is no money in farming."

Ward Carey, who owns 130 acres near Huszar's land, said the county was taking away the community's control of their own land.

"To me, the most disturbing thing is they are ignoring our comprehensive plan, saying they will go ahead and make decisions for our community, including soliciting people to rezone their property," Carey said. "It's basically people sitting in Goldendale making decisions about our community. It doesn't seem like the way our country is supposed to work."

Snowden resident Cheryl Charap said she might not have made the decision to purchase her 40 acre-parcel if she believed the zoning could be changed.

"As a property owner, I don't like it that the people of Goldendale can change the zoning on me anytime they want," Charap said.

Charap, whose 40 acres, adjacent to the Huszar property, are zoned for 20-acre minimum lot sizes, revealed that the county's Planning Department sent her a letter on April 6, 2001 -- one day after Huszar filed his zone change application with the Planning Department. The letter suggested that she rezone her property.

Charap said she resented that the county was suggesting she do so.

"I don't want that (rezoning) at all," Charap said.

The letter is on official letterhead of the Klickitat County Planning Department.

"There has been an application to the Klickitat County Planning Department regarding a rezone of the Echo Glen Farm from extensive agriculture and forest resource to general rural," the letter began. "It may be in your best interest to have your 40-acre parcel ... added to the Echo Glen Rezone application. The addition of your property to this rezone would make good planning sense ... the only thing that would be required of you to be added to this rezone would be a signed letter from you requesting that your property be added to the rezone."

The letter was signed by Brian Frampton, assistant planner, Klickitat County Planning Department.

Frampton explained that the letter was sent as a "common sense" solution.

"If a neighbor is rezoning a big parcel, it makes sense to invite her (Charap) to join in the rezone," Frampton said. "The zoning would isolate her parcel, so it made common sense to offer her the option of being included."

Stover noted that there is concern about the water supply in the Snowden area, and she wondered why the county was encouraging people to divide their property if there is no guarantee of adequate water.

"It's putting the cart before the horse by changing the zoning before anyone knows if the water rights will be granted," said Dave Sundberg, a member of the Columbia Rim Homeowners Association in Snowden.

Huszar said he appreciated the decision of the county that authorized a zoning adjustment.

"I consider the Planning Commission decision a partial repayment of my private property rights," Huszar explained. "I would like to have some of my property rights back. This just gives me some choices, folks. I'm not going to put up five-acre homes right away."

Stover made a motion to appeal based on water and road safety; on conflicts with surrounding uses; and widespread community opposition to the zone change.

The council's vote to appeal the rezoning was 6-0, with Huszar abstaining.

Attorney Ron Reynier will file the appeal on behalf of the Snowden residents.

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