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"Critical Areas" on city agenda

By Kevin Hanson

The Courier-Herald

The verbiage might be the same, but the approach will be different.

That's the message coming from Enumclaw city officials as both staff and their hired experts begin the task of re-writing the city's Critical Areas Ordinance.

Their admitted fear is local residents will hear those three simple words and either panic, get defensive or become outright agitated.

The local concern is based on the fact that King County recently adopted a Critical Areas Ordinance of its own. The county, for more than a year, had been actively addressing the CAO, raising the hackles of rural residents along the way. Rural property owners took turns blasting away at county officials, claiming the proposed CAO whittled away at their ability to use their property.

The final version, passed in late October, did little to ease their concerns.

Les Johnson, as director of the city's Department of Community Development, is spearheading Enumclaw's CAO effort. His message is simple, but to the point: "We're not under any obligation to follow what King County did," he said, adding that Enumclaw's effort is confined to property within the city limits. The city's Urban Growth Area extends beyond Enumclaw's borders, but the county controls everything in the unincorporated region.

As part of that effort involve the public and, Johnson hopes, ease some concerns, the city will host a workshop from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the public library. All are welcome to drop in, and visitors need not stay the entire time.

The workshop will address the five elements that make up "critical areas," Johnson said. Those are wetlands, fish and wildlife conservation areas, frequently flooded areas, aquifer recharge areas and geologic hazard areas.

During the Tuesday session, Johnson hopes to address state requirements and discuss "how the city can focus on future development." Passage of a Critical Areas Ordinance, he said, should not be a detriment to growth.

The city has been getting assistance in its CAO planning from a hand-picked group that represents diverse interests. The five members of the CAO advisory committee are private property owner Brad Semke; businessman Mike Runland; Garrett Huffman of the regional Master Builders Association; Charlie Liebentritt, a resident of Enumclaw's Urban Growth Area; and Marilyn Tuohy, a Plateau resident with an eye on the area's environmental interests.

Johnson anticipates the city will complete its draft Critical Areas Ordinance by the end of January, then ship the document to the state's Department of Community Trade and Economic Development. That group passes the CAO through other state agencies for approval. Johnson hopes the entire process can be wrapped up by late March.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com.

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