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Tuesday, May 18, 2004 - Page updated at 12:19 A.M.

Guest columnist
The 65-10 rule: a bad way to preserve rural land

By Toby Nixon
Special to The Times

Toby Nixon
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We in King County are blessed to enjoy clean air, clean water, healthy habitat for birds, salmon and other wildlife, and recreational opportunities for our families. One of my favorite things about serving in the state House is finding and creating opportunities to advocate the protection of Washington's natural environment as a perpetual legacy for our children and grandchildren.

King County Executive Ron Sims has submitted to the County Council his proposal for how to enhance and preserve these blessings, in the form of the updated critical-areas ordinance.

A key element of that ordinance is that each rural residential landowner must leave 65 percent of his or her land in a natural state, with no more than 10 percent of the land covered by impervious surfaces.

This is the wrong approach. As is often the case with Sims' proposals, I agree with the goal, but disagree over how best to achieve it.

A clean environment benefits us all. The responsibility of paying for it should belong to all, not just rural residential landowners. The 65-10 rule, as it is known, may make sense as an overall land-use-policy goal if it represents the consensus of unbiased scientific experts. But it does not make sense to impose the rule on each individual parcel, with those individual landowners losing the value of the land they paid for and being required to continue paying taxes on land they can't use. I heard that sentiment repeatedly last month in Woodinville, a community I represent, at the public meeting on Sims' scheme.

Instead, if King County wants 65 percent of the rural area to be in a natural state, Sims should instead propose buying that amount of land from the current owners and put the land in public trust. The outcome would be the same — 65 percent of the land would be natural — but nobody's property rights would be trampled.

And instead of the protected land being in scattered pieces, it could be in consolidated areas, with much greater benefit to wildlife.

This would be the only moral and honest course.

Some will object that this alternative would be incomprehensibly expensive, and that the county is so strapped for cash that it can't even begin to afford it.

If that's the case, the county should go to the people for approval for long-term bonds to raise the money needed for the purchases. This makes sense, because since future generations will benefit from protecting the land, they should have the opportunity to help pay for that benefit.

This alternative would also give the people a real voice in the prioritization of things they value. If the citizens of King County agree that protecting the land for themselves and future generations is of more value to them than other things they could spend the money on in their family budgets, then they will support the bond issue. If they disagree, then the county should act in accordance with the priorities the people have set.

But in no case should the county take the value of private property, in pursuit of public benefits, without just compensation.

The proposed update of the critical-areas ordinance in its current form should be rejected by the County Council and an alternative pursued that properly balances protection of individual property rights with protection of the environment.

State Rep. Toby Nixon, R-Kirkland, represents the 45th Legislative District, encompassing rural and suburban areas of King County including Woodinville, Duvall, Carnation and parts of Kirkland, Redmond and Sammamish. He serves as vice chairman of the House Republican Caucus.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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