GMA reform bill lands public hearing

GMA reform bill lands public hearing
HB 2672 would ease restrictions on limited areas of more intense rural development (LAMIRD), which supporters say would help with the ongoing housing crisis. Photo by freepik.com

One of the ways policymakers have sought to address the state’s housing crisis is by reforming provisions of the state Growth Management Act (GMA) that critics argue hinder development. HB 2672 sponsored by Rep. Andrew Barkis (R-2) would ease restrictions on certain types of limited areas of more intense rural development (LAMIRD) not designated for urban growth. Stakeholders argued at a Jan. 30 public hearing of the House Environment & Energy Committee that the change would allow more homes to be built.

“It will contribute to resolving the housing crisis in my region,” Jacquelyn Styrna told the committee. She is the director of government affairs for the Building Industry Association of Whatcom County.

Under GMA, counties subject to its provisions must adopt comprehensive plans for both the urban and rural areas, with greater development and density proscriptions outside urban growth areas (UGA). The rural plans provide for three types of LAMIRDs:

  • Redevelopment of industrial, commercial or residential areas;
  • New and increased development of small-scale recreational or tourist uses; and
  • New and increased development of isolated small-scale businesses and cottage industries.

However, stakeholders say current law is too restrictive regarding permitted uses in those areas and creates fixed boundaries that often no longer reflect the intended use. Last year, SB 5193 also attempted to loosen restrictions on LAMIRDs, though it did not advance to the Senate floor for a vote; the bill has been reintroduced this session.

HB 2672 would among other things allow local governments to combine two physically separate LAMIRDs into one “if the local government determines that other factors should be considered in determining the logical outer boundary.” Those boundaries can also be expanded “to primarily serve the needs of the existing rural population.”

“We have what are called ‘economic wastelands’ or ‘sinkholes’…that could be redeveloped or repurposed,” Barkis said. “As we all know, things change. We see that areas that were once designated for one purpose are no longer serving that purpose.”

Building Industry Association Government Affairs Director Jan Himebaugh agreed, saying: “Those communities are different, they have different needs and they need some flexibility in order to protect our resources in our rural communities but also enable economic development and growth in those areas.”

Also in favor of the bill was Washington State Association of Counties Policy Director Paul Jewell, who said the bill allows local governments the ability to make changes but doesn’t impose mandates. “We appreciate the flexibility that’s created with regard to infill and development. Current standards in the GMA with regards to LAMIRDs are very restrictive. We believe that local governments and their residents should have more latitude in deciding whether and how these areas can grow and develop. The changes included here create more opportunity for areas to evolve over time and they meet the needs of the growing population of our state.

However, Growth Management Services Director Dave Anderson with the state Department of Commerce told legislators they have “significant concerns” with the bill regarding LAMIRD boundary changes. “No matter how affordable a house is out in a rural area, the further you have to drive the higher your costs go up, so keep that in mind. We’re concerned about the impacts that are likely to come to that.”

No further action is yet scheduled for HB 2672.

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