Clark County’s plans for a rural industrial land bank in Brush Prairie are officially dead.
The county council reluctantly but unanimously voted Tuesday to remove the land bank from its 20-year comprehensive growth plan. Following an Aug. 22 state appeals court ruling that the land bank violated state law, the council opted against further appeals.
The council’s decision will again make the county eligible for state funding as it eyes millions of dollars of investment in its transportation infrastructure.
“It’s really with sadness that we’re removing this, because I think Clark County was right,” Clark County Council Chair Eileen Quiring said. “It’s reluctant, but we do need to be in compliance because it’s prohibiting the grant funds and loans, etc.”
Shortly after the county council approved the growth plan in 2016, local environmental group Friends of Clark County and Seattle-based Futurewise filed appeals, arguing in part that the land bank aided sprawl and failed to protect farmland. The appeal alleged that the county improperly rezoned agricultural land by designating the land bank on the Lagler and Ackerland dairy farms in Brush Prairie.
The quasi-judicial Growth Management Hearings Board issued an order in 2017 finding that the rural industrial land bank violated state law, and the appeals court later agreed.
The rural industrial land bank would have included 602 acres around state Highway 503 near Northeast 119th and 149th streets. Under Washington’s Growth Management Act, such land banks allow industrial development in rural areas, with the exception of heavy industrial uses, according to a 2014 news release from the county.
But the act also directs counties and cities to designate and conserve agricultural and natural resource lands.
Clark County Councilor John Blom said Tuesday that the appeal decision was “challenging and frustrating” because it focused largely on the fact that the county didn’t conduct an area-wide agriculture assessment. The councilor said that state laws don’t describe what that assessment should entail and called on the Legislature and courts to better define it.
“So we were guilty of not doing something, but no one will actually tell us what it was that we were supposed to do,” Blom said.
On the same day as the appeals court finding, the county council approved a plan to fund $66.5 million in road improvements that will allow development on 2,000 acres north of Vancouver. Funds will come from a mix of private, county and state sources, but the Growth Management Hearings Board’s ruling had made the county ineligible for millions in loans from the state Department of Commerce’s Public Works Trust Fund.
With Tuesday’s decision by the council, the land will be re-classified from light industrial to agricultural.
The land could have provided work sites near the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad. While a change to the Growth Management Act passed by the Legislature allows development along a rail line, there is a disagreement about whether the law allows the extension of needed sewer and utilities to the area, Quiring said in August. A legal dispute between the county and the operator of the rail line has also halted development.