By SVERRE BAKKE
Clustered residential developments in Klickitat County's Forest Resource zoning district aren't going to occur any time soon.
County Commissioners Ray Thayer, David Sauter and Rex F. Johnston last month unanimously rejected a Planning Commission recommendation that it amend the County Zoning Ordinance to allow the clustering of residential lots within the Forest Resource zone as a use permitted outright, subject to development guidelines and review standards.
The Planning Commission recommended passage of the legislation -- by a 6-1 vote -- which would have made proposals for residential lots in the Forest Resource zone subject to Forest Cluster standards and platting requirements. County Commissioners made their decision on Aug. 21 during a public meeting called to review the proposed amendments.
County Planning Director Curt Dreyer said, "There are no plans to revisit the issue."
Sauter said during the meeting that, though the Planning Commission "put a lot of hard work into their process, I can't support the proposal as is."
The measure developed by the Planning Commission provided an alternative to division of Forest Resource lands into 20-acre lots -- the smallest lot allowable under the zoning district. The amendments would have allowed subdivision of property in the Forest Resource zone into a "cluster" of smaller residential lots and a single large lot committed to timber management, while maintaining an overall density of one dwelling per 20 acres.
But it was the some of the development standards put forth by the Planning Commission that led to the legislation's demise.
Planning Commissioners called for establishment of a 200-foot buffer on the timber management parcel, in which normal management activities would be allowed to continue unabridged. Dreyer noted the Planning Commission could have but did not consider provisions calling for removal of timber and other vegetation within the buffer as a means of providing firebreaks.
Dreyer said the Planning Commission also envisioned requiring a "fire safety/residential plan," which would be reviewed and approved by the Planning Commission to ensure compatibility between forest and residential uses, such as thinning and removal of fuels within the buffer to minimize wildlife hazards, advance notice to residential lot owners prior to harvests, and minimize damage to residential improvements.
Another provision would have required that residential lots be located within one-quarter mile of a state highway or county road, to ensure access is available year-round for emergency vehicles, and other stipulated that residential lots must be located within an existing fire district boundary "based on concerns related to wildfire hazards and structural/residential fire protection," Dreyer noted.
Sauter suggested the proposed amendments "seem to make the process more burdensome for the timber companies" and wondered if the proposal, as drafted, had any merit, given that "this does not benefit timberland owners; the downside outweighs any positive benefit."
A representative of Bingen-based SDS Lumber Co. said the proposal had "some" merit but that noted other requirements, such as the 200-foot buffer, limit the value of subdividing marginal pieces of property
"From a large timberland owner's perspective, the proposal as drafted is not good," said Frank Backus, chief forester for SDS.
He suggested three ways to improve the legislation to make it workable: remove the requirement that residential lots be sited within a quarter mile of a state highway or county road (but still within a fire district boundary), require that roads be built to county standards, and decrease the 200-foot buffer.