Propertyowners question city’s GMA interpretation

Published on Thu, Dec 1, 2005 by eg Olson

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Property owners question city’s GMA interpretation

By Meg Olson

Property owners along Sweet Road don’t think it’s fair that Blaine’s water lines run right past, or through, their property, but they can’t tap in.

“I’d like to see those property owners have some options rather than the water just running down the hill to Birch Bay,” said Christina Alexander who owns two undeveloped Sweet Road properties. At a November 28 public hearing Alexander and others told Blaine city council that additional language needed to be included in a city ordinance designed to limit connections to the water system.

In his staff report city public works manager Steve Banham said the resolution was intended to help the city conform with the state Growth Management Act (GMA). “The issue is to what level we should be providing urban services,” he said, and the GMA says the city shouldn’t provide those services outside city limits, because this could encourage urban levels of development in rural areas.

Ron Freeman, another Sweet Road property owner, testified that Banham was interpreting the act too narrowly. “There’s room here for interpreting it much differently,” he said. “The text offers some exceptions.”

The act states that cities should not extend urban governmental services into rural areas except “in those limited circumstances shown to be necessary to protect basic public health and safety and the environment and when such services are financially supportable at rural densities and do not permit urban development.” According to Freeman, those circumstances apply to the areas along city water mains but outside city limits.

“The infrastructure is already there,” he said, making it financially feasible for the city to serve those properties at the current low density. In addition he said the county zoning in the area, now for five and 10 acre parcels, had been on a trend of decreasing density. “Left in the hands of the county the only changes I see coming are more restrictions,” Freeman said.

Freeman also pointed out that, since water connections outside the city cost 150 percent of what a connection in the city costs, the city makes big financial gains hooking up customers in rural areas. It also gives the city more say in how the surrounding area develops, said Ralph Black, another Sweet Road property owner. “As purveyors of the water you control how a project is put together so that when you decide to bring it into the city it’s done to your standards,” he said.

Black and Alexander supported Freeman’s suggestion to add as an exception to the prohibition on water outside the city limits, “properties located along the Pipeline Road water main, the Boblett Street water main, and along the existing Sweet Road Water Association water mains (now owned by the city of Blaine) provided that those areas outside the urban growth area (UGA) are financially supportable at rural densities and do not permit urban development.”
Banham said he would like to discuss the amendment with planning director Terry Galvin before considering the change. “I’d like to discuss the impact on planning issues,” he said, since the city is about to begin reviewing a new comprehensive plan and that the city and the county will review the limits of the city’s UGA next year. The matter was tabled pending staff review and is expected back on the agenda for the December 12 city council meeting.