Posted: Thursday, May 03, 2012 11:00 AM
Dan Wheat/Capital Press
Kathy Humphrey stands on Road 20 N.W. near McNeil Canyon in what she calls bad zoning where 29, 20-acre lots were platted. The Columbia River is in the background. Humphrey is instrumental in appealing county ordinances to protect ag lands.
Wheat farmer says development sprawl threatens farming
By DAN WHEAT
WATERVILLE, Wash. -- Kathy Humphrey is a bit of a rebel. She's a wheat farmer who doesn't mind taking on other farmers or the county.
In her view, Douglas County has adopted ordinances allowing development to occur willy-nilly throughout farmland in violation of the state's Growth Management Act. Such development could result in a sprawl of homes chopping up farmland and jeopardizing the county's economic engine: agriculture.
Two organizations she's involved with -- Douglas Action Committee and Douglas County Coalition for Responsible Government -- teamed up with Futurewise, a nonprofit land-use watchdog organization in Seattle, and appealed the county's ordinances to the Growth Management Hearings Board of Eastern Washington.
A prehearing conference was held April 26. A hearing is expected in late July or early August.
At issue are:
* Ordinance No. TLS 12-02-05, adopted Jan. 24, allowing a single building lot of 1 to 3 acres to be short subdivided from agricultural land when the land is unsuitable for agricultural use and building a house will not affect neighboring agricultural operations.
* Ordinance No. TLS 12-03-05B, adopted Feb. 7, allows short subdivisions of one building lot per 7 acres, reduced from 10 acres, in certain agriculture zones.
A short subdivision is typically a means of creating four or fewer lots with public notice but no public hearing. Larger subdivisions require public hearings.
The ordinances violate state law, which requires nonagricultural uses be on land not suited to agriculture and that ag lands be protected from incompatible uses, said Tim Trohimovich, director of planning and law at Futurewise.
"I don't have anything against growth and development, but they should be orderly and logical," Humphrey said.
Both ordinances chop up ag land and allow incompatible uses, she said.
"Farmers have a job to do and a product to produce. It's essentially an industry and living next door to an industry isn't necessarily a wonderful thing," Humphrey said.
"You have pickers showing up at 5 a.m., pruning and spraying. Growers are concerned they could lose their spray licenses," she said. "And without spraying they can lose their apples to codling moth."
Dust, chemical sprays and water would become issues for residents interspersed throughout dryland wheat on the Waterville Plateau, she said.
The county has repeatedly allowed developments with inadequate roads and utilities, she said, including one on Road 20 Northwest west of her farm near McNeil Canyon.
"A developer platted 29, 20-acre lots and sold the lots. People buy them and then realize the sheer expense of infrastructure is prohibitive, so they camp there and then we have to go tell them they can't have fires because there's a burn ban and they could burn up our wheat fields," she said.
First-responder time to her farm is 45 minutes, she said. Maintaining county services to such areas will cost more than taxes generated by them and eventually jeopardize the county's agricultural economy, she said.
Douglas County Commission Chairman Ken Stanton doesn't believe that will happen, but that the county may have a tough time defending the one building lot per 7 acres.
Both measures were adopted, Stanton said, because farmers wanted them and a majority supported them in public meetings as a means of providing housing for family members or income needed to survive.
"Kathy is good-hearted and I understand some of her issues. I don't appreciate what some developers have done in the hinterlands," Stanton said. "But I don't know what the answer is. We can't say that you can't do anything with your property. It becomes a philosophical thing."
"At least one county commissioner and the planning director have called me a rabble-rouser," Humphrey said. "I consider that a compliment. We don't seem to have a vision and without that you get rural sprawl that stresses county services."