Pierce County leaders are moving forward on several fronts – including an appeal to Gov. Chris Gregoire – to avoid losing millions of dollars in potential state grants because the county was found out of compliance with the state’s Growth Management Act.
The County Council on Tuesday introduced an emergency ordinance that would repeal several comprehensive plan amendments so that it can get back in step with the law.
That ordinance, which is expected to come to a vote next Tuesday, would withdraw the county’s blessing for Orton Junction, a controversial mixed-use development in Sumner that would be anchored by a YMCA. The ordinance also would jeopardize the Bethel School District’s plans to build a new high school on land it owns.
But a county staff member said Tuesday that if the county doesn’t act, it could weaken or lose its ability to compete for up to $11 million over the next month in potential grant awards for roads, parks and clean water projects.
Several council members objected at a study session Tuesday that the county is being prematurely penalized by state agencies on its grant applications. It’s supposed to have until January to resolve errors cited by the Growth Management Hearings Board when it ruled the county out of compliance last month.
Council member Tim Farrell, D-Tacoma, said it was like sending someone to the executioner before he’s gone through the appeals process.
Some council members said the county is caught between protecting its grant applications and undercutting the City of Sumner and Bethel School District.
“We’re losing money for the taxpayers now,” said council member Roger Bush, who sponsored the emergency ordinance. “It looks like it could get a lot worse pretty quick. ... The downside is so high that we don’t have much of a choice at this point.”
On Tuesday, the council voted 5 to 2 to introduce the ordinance. Council chairwoman Joyce McDonald, R-Puyallup, and Farrell voted against the measure, saying the state has failed to give due process to the county, Sumner and the school district.
McDonald said Tuesday she expected the county to send a letter to Gregoire that day. It would ask the governor to direct state agencies not to penalize the county in its grant applications while the county is attempting to resolve issues with the state hearings board.
The letter is expected to be signed by McDonald, Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy and Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindquist.
Another county response could happen today when the City of Sumner is expected to file an appeal of the hearings board’s ruling in Pierce County Superior Court. Once that appeal is filed, the county will ask the hearings board to stay its ruling that the county is out of compliance.
The hearings board ruled last month against amendments for Orton Junction, putting that project in limbo. It faulted Pierce County’s decision to loosen protections on nearly 200 acres of rural and agriculture land. It also found the county action was not fully supported by state code, nor did it fully comply with the county’s own planning requirements.
In the case of the Bethel School District, the board ruled against the redesignation of 80 acres from rural farm to rural residential. It said the school would be located on a rural site serving urban students in violation of community policies and plans for Pierce County.
The school district filed a motion for reconsideration. The hearings board said it will decide by Aug. 20.