Old adversaries praised a new law Monday designed to make life easier for developers while protecting the environment.
The law, signed by Gov. Mike Lowry in Tacoma’s Union Station, is supposed to simplify permitting procedures for developers. Besides speeding up the permit process, the new law limits the number of appeals in land-use cases.
That might sound like a developer’s dream and an environmentalist’s nightmare.
But it doesn’t eliminate any environmental laws. Rather, local governments will merge protective laws such as the State Environmental Policy Act with local land-use regulations required by the Growth Management Act.
Zoning codes with built-in environmental regulations are supposed to be easier for developers to understand, simpler for bureaucrats to administer and more predictable for citizens who want to know what their towns will look like in 20 years.
“Good environmental policy and good development policy go hand in hand,” Lowry said. “This has been a significant, significant accomplishment.”
Environmentalists and developers also praised the new law, which passed the House and Senate in unanimous votes.
“People are fed up with polarization,” said Ken Weiner, a Seattle land-use attorney who helped write the new law. “That’s why this is so neat.”
The Thea Foss Waterway below Union Station served as a laboratory of sorts for the approach envisioned in the new law.
As part of a state pilot project, Tacoma and the state last year each kicked in $250,000 to analyze environmental problems and write a landuse plan for the area. The result is a plan that tells developers and citizens up front what uses will be allowed and what environmental problems confront would-be developers.
Traditionally, environmental concerns have been analyzed on a siteby-site basis, with individual developers paying for the studies as part of the permit application process.
Backers of the new law haven’t figured out a longterm plan to pay for environmental studies once done by developers.
Koster said one possibility is having developers reimburse the government over time by building public costs into development application fees.
There isn’t enough money to ensure all areas will be covered by landuse regulations that include environmental analyses. But the new law is designed to change the development game everywhere.
-The law sets deadlines for government to act on land-use applications or appeals.
Local governments covered by the Growth Management Act must rule on permit applications within 120 days of receiving them. Appeals to the state Shorelines Management Board must be filed within 21 days of a decision by local government, and the board must issue a decision within 180 days of receiving an appeal.
-The law limits public hearings and appeals in land-use decisions.