Thurston County Moves Forward With ‘Sustainable Thurston’

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The Thurston Regional Planning Council on Friday morning approved Sustainable Thurston, a menu of policies that local jurisdictions can use in land planning, particularly in implementation of the state Growth Management Act.

Sustainable Thurston next will be put to a vote in Thurston County’s local jurisdictions, including Tenino, Bucoda, Rainier and Yelm. Work on the document began three years ago.

The planning council’s vote elicited audible disappointment from the approximately 80 members of Grassroots Thurston present at Friday’s meeting.

Grassroots Thurston, comprised of farmers and lands right advocates from Thurston, Lewis and Mason counties, had hoped to delay a vote until after the upcoming Legislative session.

The group disagrees with the Planning Council’s suggested land use policies and worries that Sustainable Thurston, marketed as a voluntary program, will become mandatory in the future.

All but one member of the Planning Council voted in favor of moving forward with Sustainable Thurston

George Barner, the representative from the Port of Olympia, voted against the plan.

“Seeing the amount of discomfort that exists around our county, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to allow more time for people to read and discuss what’s happening,” Barner said. “Otherwise we’re going to have a lot of problems when it goes to the jurisdictions.”

Bob Isom, representing Yelm — the city which has voiced the greatest concerns about Sustainable Thurston’s implementation — gave cautious support for the plan.

“I’m going to vote for this today, that’s no guarantee as to what my city council is going to do, but I am going to support it based on hard work that’s gone on, as well as the fact that I don’t believe local governments will lose local control,” he said. “Should I be around when that starts to happen, I will be one of the biggest screamers anyone has ever heard.”

Thurston County Commissioner and Planning Chair Sandra Romero, on the other hand, said the plan is not enough.

“I’ve been frustrated because we just can’t make progress at the pace we need to, to keep the county healthy,” Romero said. “It doesn’t go far enough, but it sets the framework to do better planning.

Prior to the vote, attendees gave comment for almost an hour.

 

In developing the plan over the last three years, the Sustainable Thurston Task Force has pondered the question, “How do you want your community to look, function and feel in 2035?”

Its answer: A community with less waste and pollution, one with plenty of open space and economic opportunities.

To get there, the Task Force has suggested changes to land use, transportation, climate change, housing, water infrastructure and health and human services.

“In one generation … the Thurston region will become a model for sustainability and livability,” planners wrote in Sustainable Thurston. “We will consume less energy, water and land, produce less waste, and achieve carbon neutrality.”

In the document, the Thurston planners lay out long term goals, goals to be reached by 2035 and the first steps needed to reach those goals

In land using planning — the hot-button issue — the planners set a goal of limiting 5 percent of new housing in rural areas. To better understand rural land uses, the planners wrote, they will create an inventory of farmlands, forest land, prairies and other critical habitats that “may be at risk due to development pressure.”

Appropriate next steps, they said, are to support agricultural economy, purchase or transfer developments and change rural zoning.

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