EDITORIAL: Land-use battles, comp plan

Posted 1/10/17

Jefferson County leaders would be wise to take a hard and long look at the current Jefferson County Comprehensive Land-Use Plan in light of the most recent settlement agreement with Port Ludlow …

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EDITORIAL: Land-use battles, comp plan

Posted

Jefferson County leaders would be wise to take a hard and long look at the current Jefferson County Comprehensive Land-Use Plan in light of the most recent settlement agreement with Port Ludlow Associates (PLA) over a land-use squabble involving clearcutting by PLA that the county called “illegal” in 2015.

It could go without saying that negotiations are preferable to a full-blown lawsuit and legal challenge. So, yes, it was wise to talk first rather than head to court.

What can’t go without saying is the county’s land-use regulations as they apply to large corporations like PLA. They need some fine-tuning if not serious examination.

In the latest land-use skirmish in Port Ludlow, Ludlow residents urged the county to “do something” after PLA cut timber in areas of the community where residents felt it was crystal clear that no clearcutting should be allowed.

The county apparently thought the rules where clear as well when Department of Community Development (DCD) head Carl Smith issued a stop-work order in May 2015 on the timber cutting within the Master Planned Resort. PLA complied. PLA also insisted that since the state Department of Natural Resources had issued harvesting permits for the clearcuts, it had done no wrong.

After almost a year and a half of back and forth – and after spending almost $100,000 on outside attorney fees – Jefferson County and PLA arrived at a settlement agreement that finds PLA essentially did no wrong. The county withdrew its May 2015 stop-work letter.

There’s a lot of wording in the 14-page document that now spells out what PLA can and cannot do and where it can do it. And all that is excellent.

“I think it’s a very good agreement considering the lack of clarity in the original development agreement made back in 1990 that was hammered out,” Jefferson County Commissioner David Sullivan said when the settlement was announced. “I think this is much more desirable than to go to court and have a judge try to decide.”

What Sullivan didn’t say, and is worth remembering, is that in another Port Ludlow land-use quarrel, Jefferson County lost every battle it fought with Iron Mountain Quarry between 2007 and 2014 over whether it had the right to mine. And ultimately, like PLA, Iron Mountain won the day. Iron Mountain won a $500,000 settlement for damages incurred because the county was deemed “arbitrary and capricious” in how it dealt with the company.

There’s a trend here that is worth noting as Jefferson County starts to go through its comprehensive land-use plan update this year, and as the Brinnon Master Planned Resort heads to the finish line.

At last count, Jefferson County had paid Patrick J. Schneider of Foster Pepper PLCC $400 an hour to help settle the case.

All told, the county paid a $400-a-hour Seattle attorney almost $100,000 for this single case alone last year. That’s more than what Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor David Alvarez was paid a year after 17 years with the county. When he left last summer, Alvarez’ salary was $89,878. He hasn’t been replaced.

Jefferson County needs to hire a civil deputy and invest in wordsmithing the comp plan.

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