June 8, 2012

Is Washington Becoming Oregon?


Here is a little musing for Friday.  Last week I participated in Law Seminars International’s continuing legal education course on takings law.  I discussed whether or not Washington would benefit or wade into a takings initiative similar to Measure 37. My cautionary tale to Washington is that some of the heavy handiness and rigidity of Oregon’s top down land use system is what lead voters to pass Measure 7 and Measure 37.

In developing the presentation I thought a lot about the fundamentals of each states’ land use system. I think it holds some interesting insight into what Washington is becoming.

Oregon’s land use system is very much a top-down approach system.  Local comprehensive plans must comply with the Oregon’s land use planning goals.  Each comprehensive plan gets review to ensure compliance with the statewide goals.

Washington’s system functions much differently.  While the Growth Management Act (“GMA”) has fourteen goals, local government develops its own comprehensive plans independent of state review.  The theory is that communities know how best to plan themselves.

What struck me is how Washington’s system is evolving.  First came the mandates to adopt critical area ordinances in line with best-available science developed by the state agencies.  Next came statewide mandatory mandates on stormwater.  While stormwater is not a GMA mandate, but rather a Clean Water Act mandate, the state still inserted itself into the land use process by developing the standards that most local governments must comply with.  Then came the recent update or Shoreline Master Programs under the Shoreline Management Act. Also the fourteenth goal of GMA.  Finally, the new round of NPDES stormwater permitting calls for basin planning and impact analysis for comprehensive plan changes.

State agencies appear to be dictating more of what can happen with local comprehensive plans and development regulations.  This is contrary to the intent of the GMA.

On the other hand, the uniformity of Oregon’s system may promote greater stability for developers and businesses looking to do projects in multiple jurisdictions.

This poses an interesting question: should local government have flexibility to deal with local conditions or should Washington move more towards Oregon’s system?  Thoughts?

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