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Planners Err In Snowden

Editorial for Jan. 10

The Klickitat County Planning Commission erred when it recommended approval of a rezoning request in the Snowden area.

Last year, property owner Louis Huszar of Echo Glen Farms applied to rezone nearly 80 acres of his orchard land from "extensive agriculture and forest resource" to "general rural." The rezoning would allow for the creation of five-acre residential parcels.

The conflict is, Snowden's Comprehensive Plan currently calls for property to be sold in 20-acre minimum parcels.

The Snowden area has historically had to deal with a limited supply of water. Potentially bringing in a large number of new homes could only exacerbate this problem, probably to the detriment of current residents.

Further, one of the goals set forth in the community's Comprehensive Plan, created in 1984, is protection of the area's agricultural and resource lands.

There are other concerns as well: More homes means more dogs, which too often harass, and sometimes kill, livestock. While less vital than in past years, ranching is still consequential to the economy and the heritage of the Snowden area.

But ignoring these issues, last August the county's Planning Commission voted 5-0 to approve the rezoning application.

Huszar's proposal, and the commission's apparent rubber-stamping of it, has met with widespread opposition from residents of the area. The Snowden Community Council, elected by Snowden residents, has been fighting the proposed rezoning, and when the council's wishes were ignored, voted 6-0, with one abstention, to appeal the Planning Commission's decision.

That appeal is pending before the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners.

But it's not just the popular will that has apparently been disregarded by the county's planners.

It was totally inappropriate for the Klickitat County Planning Department to send a letter to a property owner adjacent to Huszar, suggesting she rezone her property as well. Cheryl Charap, who owns 40 acres, was contacted by the Planning Department and encouraged to join with Huszar and also request rezoning to five-acre residential parcels.

"It may be in your best interest to have your 40-acre parcel ... added to the Echo Glen rezone application," read the letter, dated April 6, 2001, and on official Klickitat County letterhead.

The county has no business sending letters to property owners to solicit requests for rezoning. The fact that the Planning Department did so suggests planners recognized that approval of the Huszar rezoning could create "spot zoning," and were trying to get around that in this backdoor manner.

Spot zones -- property that is zoned inconsistently with surrounding parcels -- are not allowed under state law.

Attorney Ron Reynier, who was hired by the Snowden Community Council to handle the appeal, pointed out a key flaw in the rezoning plan: "If Mr. Huszar is permitted to rezone his property on the facts that he has presented -- economic difficulties associated with farming -- the cumulative impact of the rezone will be to permit every large-scale landowner to apply for a rezone of their forested or agricultural land because they can make more profit by having denser zoning. A higher standard must be proved by an applicant than personal economic gain," Reynier wrote in the appeal memorandum presented to the County Commissioners.

While we sympathize with Huszar's concerns on a personal level, Reynier appears to be on solid ground in his analysis of this case.

This rezoning proposal never should have come to an appeal: The plan should have been denied by the Planning Commission. And if the County Commissioners reject the community's appeal, the county may as well throw out the pretense of respecting zoning regulations throughout the county, and simply let convenience and economic gain rule.

JB

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