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Bonney Lake land annex appealed

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By Dennis Box, The Courier-Herald

A land brawl is brewing in Bonney Lake.

The watchdog group, 1000 Friends, filed an appeal Feb. 3 with the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board challenging amendments to Pierce County's Comprehensive Growth Plan allowing Bonney Lake to annex 496 acres.

The amendments were unanimously passed Nov. 18 by the Pierce County Council

The Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development has joined 1000 Friends' fight against the expansion, filing a Motion to Intervene with the authorization of Gov. Gary Locke.

The argument is over 333 acres along Angeline Road East and the meandering Fennel Creek, which flows through the land. The core question is who is best suited to protect the creek and wetland - the county or the city.

"I'm trying to figure out what the problem is," Mayor Bob Young said. "It looks like 1000 Friends is trying to oppose any UGA (Urban Growth Area) amendment for any reason. We need to be masters of our own destiny. The Growth Management Act mandates we do this and fill in the borders of the city. And with Fennel Creek, our environmental regulations are more strict than the county's."

The appeal of the amendment is largely based on Bonney Lake's projected growth and the protection of Fennel Creek.

"Bonney Lake's UGA has more land than it needs to meet housing and employment targets," Planning Director for 1000 Friends Tim Trohimovich said. "This is settled law. The Urban Growth Area is based on population projections. The city has failed to show how this land is needed to meet housing and employment targets, and they are not supposed to use critical land in their growth area."

Leonard Bauer, managing director for growth management service at CTED, noted the state agency cannot appeal without the Governor's authorization.

"Our agency requested authorization from the governor," Bauer said. "Typically the state does not get involved in appeals, but we believe this is precedent setting for other cities and counties in the state. We want an interpretation by the Hearing Board to help guide other jurisdictions."

Governor Locke's letter, which accompanied the CTED Motion to Intervene, stated:

"First it is necessary to maintain our commitment to the goals and requirements of the Growth Management Act. Second, these ordinances as adopted will result in an inappropriate expansion of Pierce County's urban growth area (UGAs)."

The first ruling of the Hearing Board will be whether the CTED can file a Motion to Intervene.

City Councilman Neil Johnson questions the Governor's understanding of the issues in Bonney Lake.

"I'm really disappointed with Governor Locke," Johnson said. "I'd like to know when was the last time he's been to Bonney Lake. Sometimes these groups like 1000 Friends mean well, but they just go bananas. I could understand if the area was outside the city, but it's right in the middle. They don't trust us, but Fennel Creek will be completely protected."

The argument over the land and Fennel Creek concerns the type and density of development in the future for the area.

"It's not a question of if it is going to be developed, but how. Whether it is in the county or city," Deputy Mayor Dan Swatman said. "We have to look far enough down the road to see a solution. I think the city has much more interest in how it develops. The people closest to the issues are the Bonney Lake citizens."

Trohimovich agreed the landowners would likely sell and allow the land to be developed.

"That is potentially true," Trohimovich said. "But if the area is left outside the city it will develop at a lower density. I've seen this before. Once land comes into a city's UGA, property owner's expectations change. Once it is in the city they see one area highly developed and the pressure mounts. The evidence is clear. If you want to protect an environmentally sensitive area leave it outside a city's UGA in a rural area."

Bonney Lake city officials feel Pierce County's track record for controlling sprawl is less than stellar.

"The county has no real rules that will guide the development of that piece of land," Young said. "There are 15 to 20 owners who each have the right to develop as they see fit. 1000 Friends has not done their homework. If it is left in the county it will be developed and no one will protect Fennel Creek."

At the Feb. 11 City Council meeting the Council directed City Attorney Jim Dionne to join Pierce County in the fight against the appeal.

Pierce County Councilman Shawn Bunney, who was instrumental in the passage of the amendment continues to feel optimistic about the eventual outcome of the process, noting a trip before the Hearing Board is not the only answer.

"There's a lot of time to work on a win-win solution on this one," Bunney said. "This is a very unique property. Seldom do you see a piece of land the bifurcates a city. The facts are that the city will be the best stewards. I'm very optimistic this will come out well for the city, county and environmental community."

The Hearing Board will rule on motions April 21. The hearing on the merits of the case is scheduled for June 21 and the final decision order will be released by Aug. 2.

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com

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