Thanks to the lobby efforts of our local BIA and property rights groups, most people, including many of our county and city council members remain confused about the actual standards and rules that apply to critical areas.
For example, just this week, Rud Browne recited a common myth regarding critical areas, alleging they must be balanced with other goals and community needs.
Critical Areas Are NOT Subject To a Balancing Test.
The law is unequivocable. Critical areas are an overlay zone on top of all other kinds of land, whether natural resource, rural or urban, and it imposes a special level of protection. And that protection is required in every county in Washington, even those that did not elect to adopt the GMA.
To comply with the GMA, critical areas must be managed in prevent a “no net loss” of ecological function. To ensure that standard is being met, counties and cities must research and apply best available science. If ecological function is not protected, then development can not proceed. Functions can be protected through regulations, incentives, and mitigation.
“although counties and cities may protect critical areas in different ways or may allow some localized impacts to critical areas, or even the potential loss of some critical areas, development regulations must preserve the existing functions and values of critical areas. If development regulations allow harm to critical areas, they must require compensatory mitigation of the harm. Development regulations may not allow a net loss of the functions and values of the ecosystem that includes the impacted or lost critical areas.” WAC 365-196-830; See also RCW 36.70A.050 and .060 and 170.
Developers often confuse this issue by citing to the GMA goals, claiming they are equal and conflicting. That is also untrue. The GMA goals do not explicitly reference critical areas and where is potential conflict within the GMA, the more specific provisions trump the more general provisions. Moreover, a municipality must give effect to all the GMA goals, but is not required to give them equal emphasis and priority.
If you want the BIA and CAPR to have the last word and the distort the law for their personal gain, then by all means stay home on Monday night.