Controversial Land Use Enforcement Code for Thurston County Resurfaces

public hearingCommissioners with Thurston County plan to revisit a highly controversial land use enforcement issue sometime later this week. The initial meeting on the subject occurred in October of 2013. Now, officials with the county say they will present Title 26, which will consolidate a number of regulations. Some people living in this part of Washington State feel the county is making a power play.

Title 26, which is a code proposed by Thurston County officials, is supposed to combine several land use enforcement regulations into a single regulation. However, after almost a year since the first public hearing took place, the issue is once again on the commissioner’s agenda. The Board of Commissioners is being encouraged by county staff to adopt the proposed code while some residents are pushing back.

As expressed by Katie Pruit, associate planner in the Resource Stewardship, the reason for this change is so staff and customers can locate but also understand provisions of enforcement easier. In addition, Title 26 would put an administrative enforcement option in place for the Resource Stewardship, allowing staff to impose monetary penalties that prompt fast compliance. However, Title 26 would only be enforced once voluntary conditions of compliance are not met.

County staff does not feel this is out of line considering that neighboring counties and Environmental Health use administrative fees for the same purpose. While everything sounds good on the surface, some underlying rumbles are being heard from residents who feel that Title 26 is nothing more than an invitation of abuse by county officials.

Glen Morgan, resident and property rights activist said that one problem with Title 26 is that it is far too vague. Therefore, it gives county officials the opportunity to turn residents into criminals when minor violations are committed. He added that Title 26 is poorly written and a direct war on rural residents living in poverty.

According to county officials, the new code only ensures consistency of compliance actions no matter what the code violation is. According to officials, the violations associated with common land use are varied, covering things like building without having permits in place, storing junk vehicles, cutting protected trees, and illegally filled wetlands.

Both sides have strong arguments for and against the new Title 26 but until this week’s meeting, no one knows which way things will go.

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