Dear San Juan County Neighbors and Friends,
On March 19th, San Juan Superior Court Judge Don Eaton held a hearing in the case of Common Sense Alliance, P.J. Taggares Company, et al. v. Growth Management Hearings Board, Western Washington Region. Judge Eaton’s task is to review the Growth Board’s decision of September 6, 2013, regarding San Juan County’s Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO).
For the first time, this hearing dealt with constitutional issues raised by the Common Sense Alliance (CSA) and Taggares. The Friends of the San Juans (FOSJ) raised issues the Growth Board had ruled against, and Amy Vira, representing the County, defended the Critical Areas Ordinance as adopted in December 2012.
CSA and Tagarres, represented by Sandy Mackie of Perkins Coie LLC, Seattle, pursued the same issues presented to the Hearings Board:
1. The County legislative authority failed to “specifically designate” and define fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas in accordance with state law. And, since the regulation, as written, is not lawful, it does not protect the critical areas of San Juan County.
2. The County applied a water quality buffer (up to 200+feet) and a tree protection buffer (100 ft.) based upon the existence of regulated habitat and not the elements of nexus, proportionality and reasonable necessity. That is, the regulation (and consequential restriction to one’s use of his or her property) is not proportional to the suspected environmental harm caused, if any.
CSA members present observed that Judge Eaton was prepared, asked good questions and was engaged with Mr. Mackie throughout his presentation. As expected the Friends had their own list of complaints that primarily had to do with the ordinances not being strict enough and the buffers not being big enough; while the County attorney did her best to defend the process that was used in creating the laws.
CSA is pleased that we had the opportunity to present our case to an attentive judge, and we are hopeful that we will get a reasoned analysis and positive decision from Judge Eaton. His decision is to be rendered in no more than 90 days, and if his decision is in CSA’s favor, Judge Eaton would send the ordinances back to the County to be crafted in a way that follows state and constitutional law and protects the property owner as well as the environment.
We are keeping our fingers crossed.
Common Sense Alliance