Citizens have every right to appeal land use decisions. However, there are times when it might be wiser to accept a judge's or an appeal examiner's decisions, rather than continue to file appeal after appeal.
We believe that is the case with ongoing appeals -- there have been five so far -- challenging a proposal to build three homes on the "Lyons Ranch" property in the Husum area.
The basics are these: Two local families -- Don & Heidi Struck and Max & Carol Lyons -- bought 303 acres in 2004. In July 2009, they submitted a short plat application to divide 83.5 acres of that property, which is zoned "Resource Lands," into four parts. One of the parts -- 76 acres -- would remain as an open area under a forest management plan.
Of the remaining 7.5 acres, three 2.5 acre residential lots would be created, allowing for three homes to be built. The homes would be located about one mile from the Husum rural center.
The fact is, single-family homes are permitted outright in the Resource Lands zoning areas of the county -- provided they follow basic limitations the county has set forth in its zoning codes. And there is nothing in this proposal that appears to go against those limitations.
The Klickitat County Planning Department issued a "mitigated determination of non-significance" and gave preliminary approval to the short plat. The county also imposed 26 conditions that must be addressed prior to gaining final approval of the four-lot short subdivision for the Lyons Ranch parcel. The land owners have agreed to fully meet those mitigation measures.
Indeed, the property owners have already provided archaeological surveys and Western gray squirrel surveys. They have proposed a squirrel protection plan. They have agreed to State Environmental Policy Act mitigation measures regarding water supply, wildlife habitat, and cultural resources. And all relevant state, county, and tribal agencies have been involved in the short plat comment process.
Following a recent appeal by Friends of the White Salmon River, a hearings examiner upheld the county's decision to allow the modest development project to go forward -- but that appeal decision, issued in December last year, has now also been appealed.
If more of the 83.5 acre parcel were in line to be developed, we might agree that would be excessive. But building three homes on a total of 7.5 acres represents a relatively minor footprint. If Husum is to grow at all, some additional residential housing will be necessary.
It's important for those concerned about over-development to remember there is a five-year limitation on new short plats on the property. In other words, if this short plat goes forward, that means no other short plats can be considered on the remaining 76 acres for at least five years. And if, after five years, there are indeed additional short plats proposed, those would need to go through a comprehensive process, with updated surveys required. Of course, those short plats would also be subject to appeal.
In other words, taken by itself, this development would not appear to set any precedent.
On Dec. 17, 2010, Klickitat County Hearing Examiner Philip Lamb issued his ruling rejecting the most recent appeal by Friends of the White Salmon River. In his findings, Lamb pointed out that the proposed short plat "is consistent with the county's resource lands code and the subdivision ordinance, and finds that the development proposal is in furtherance of the overall intent of the resource lands code -- to provide limited and phased residential development while balancing the need to preserve natural resource land use opportunities."
We agree with the hearing examiner in this proceeding. The limited development plan being proposed, with three homesites, seems entirely reasonable.