The Pierce County Council postponed an emergency ordinance designed to help the county avoid losing out on potential state loan and grant awards that could total in the millions because it has been deemed out of compliance with state growth law.
The ordinance would have repealed four comprehensive-plan amendments approved last fall. It also would have jeopardized the proposed Orton Junction development south of Sumner, as well as the Bethel School District’s plans to eventually build a high school on land it owns in the Graham area.
The council’s Tuesday action buys time for another option to gain traction – a request that the state Growth Management Hearings Board stay its ruling that the county acted out of step with state law when it approved the amendments.
If the request isn’t granted, the council could revisit repealing the amendments next month. On Tuesday, it moved a regular, non-emergency ordinance dealing with the amendments to committee and council meetings in September.
Council Chairwoman Joyce McDonald said holding off Tuesday was the right move. She added that she’s hopeful the stay request will be granted.
The amendments authorized land-use changes that open the door to Orton Junction and the high school. The council approved them as part of a package of comprehensive-plan amendments.
But the hearings board last month ruled they were out of compliance and gave the county until Dec. 10 to take corrective action.
County officials last week said they’ve been notified potential state funding in the form of loans and grants is threatened because of the non-compliance ruling.
The county’s ability to compete for up to $31 million in potential funding could be imperiled, according to an Aug 9 letter from McDonald, County Executive Pat McCarthy and County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist.
The letter notes the amendments aren’t in effect yet; that’s not set to happen until April.
“The state is sanctioning the county before we even had the legally permitted time to decide whether to appeal the board’s (ruling). In addition, we are being sanctioned even though the challenged amendments have never become effective,” the letter says.
The letter is addressed to Gov. Chris Gregoire and includes a request for an executive order directing state agencies not to penalize the county now.
In an email to the county Tuesday, Gregoire’s chief of staff wrote that an executive order likely isn’t possible, but that “if a stay is issued, it would restore the county’s compliance status under (state growth law), for the purposes of state funding programs.”
A decision on the stay could come as early as next week. The county, City of Sumner and developer behind Orton Junction all have made requests.
Sumner and the developer are appealing the growth board’s ruling in court.
The Orton Junction amendments in particular were controversial as they worked their way through county government. Proponents of the mixed-use development, to be anchored by a YMCA, tout economic benefits and say the project will lead to unprecedented farmland preservation as a result of an agreement the developer signed off on last fall.
But opponents say there’s already room for urban development within Sumner and that the prime farmland that would be lost to the project is irreplaceable.