January 6, 1995 in City

This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is Mine Debate Over How Much Government Can Control Land Use Coming To Boil In Washington Legislature

Associated Press

To Archie Anderson, the issue is simple. If government restricts the use of his investment land along the south fork of the Stillaguamish River, the government should pay for the land.

To state Audubon Society Director Jim Pissot, the issue is complicated. If government restricts the use of an individual’s land to protect the populace against flooding or other harm, the government should not have to pay for it.

The two men’s voices, along with hundreds of others, will be heard this legislative session as the simmering fight over land use reaches full boil.

Anderson, 78, of Edmonds, is among 231,000 Washington citizens who petitioned the 1995 Legislature to make state and local government pay property owners for land value lost to regulation. The initiative to the Legislature, still to be certified by Secretary of State Ralph Munro, will be at the heart of debate over just how far government can go in controlling land use.

The Republican House is considered sure to support Initiative 164. Its fate in the Democratic Senate is less certain. If lawmakers fail to support it, the measure goes to voters in November. Gov. Mike Lowry, who has no veto power over initiatives, opposes the measure as too drastic. He said he hoped lawmakers would send it to voters, giving people time enough to absorb its implications.

The Legislature also could draft an alternative measure to go to the ballot, and some have discussed the idea of creating ways to compensate landowners by giving them power to sell development rights they lost to regulation. Others would like to ease regulation brought by the state’s 4-year-old Growth Management Act intended to reduce urban sprawl.

“When they take away the value of our land with regulations, this is a suppression of our rights,” Anderson said in a telephone interview. “If they can take away our land and things like that, what’s to stop them from taking other things, too?”

But Pissot represents another view.

Property owners, he asserted, have never had a constitutional right to develop property if the development harms other property owners or public resources such as fish runs or forests. xxxx Initiative 164 Here are the major elements of Initiative 164, which would require government to compensate property owners when land-use restrictions reduce property values: When private property is restricted for public benefit, the regulating agency or jurisdiction must pay full compensation of reduction of value to the owner, or the use of the land by the owner may not be restricted because of the regulation or restraint. The “takings” would not apply if the property were regulated to control a “public nuisance,” which is not defined in the initiative. Any time a government attempts to regulate land use, it first must prepare a detailed economic impact statement showing various alternatives to restrict use versus their economic impact on the land owner and economy. The governing entity then must choose the alternative that has the least impact on property and still accomplish the purpose of the regulation.

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