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GMA reform bill gets strong bipartisan backing

GMA reform bill gets strong bipartisan backing

After several unsuccessful efforts to amend the state Growth Management Act (GMA) regarding limited areas of more intensive rural development (LAMIRDs), a measure proposed by Sen. Shelly Short (R-7) appears to have gained needed bipartisan support.

That bill, ESSB 5275, cleared the Senate on March 8 in a 45-4 vote before advancing out of the House Local Government Committee on March 18 without additional amendments and with praise from committee members on both sides of the aisle.

Local government officials testifying at the bill’s Jan. 27 public hearing in the Senate Committee on Housing & Local Government noted that the inability to expand or add new economic development within LAMRIDs makes it incredibly difficult for rural counties to drive growth into their urban growth areas (UGAs) as intended under GMA.

In addition to committee members, the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) has expressed support for the bill. BIAW Government Affairs Director Jan Himebaugh told the Housing & Local Government Committee at the Jan. 27 public hearing that LAMIRDs have been “locked in stone” for the past 30 years. “A lot has changed since the 1990s. Our uses and the things that we need, and our communities need, have changed as well. Adding some flexibility for these LAMIRDs so that they can provide housing, or they can change their uses and address some of the infrastructure needs…is really important. It could go to help our rural communities have the services and housing that they need.”

Under GMA planning, local counties conduct eight-year comprehensive code updates; those plans allow for three separate types of LAMRIDs that vary in terms of development restrictions. However, local government advocates have argued that the LAMRIDs, reflecting development prior to GMA’s passage in 1990, have failed to keep up with growth and economic demand in rural communities.

Prior to the March 18 vote, Chair Gerry Pollet (D-46) said “it’s been a contentious issue for many years…I think we’ll see very strong agreement from this committee, as we’ve seen in the Senate.”

In 2019, SB 5193 would have loosened certain restrictions on LAMIRDs and would have no longer required counties to establish what are known as “logical outer boundaries.” Last year, HB 2672 sponsored by Rep. Andrew Barkis (R-2) would have eased restrictions on certain types of LAMIRDs and combined two types into one. Neither bill managed to clear the legislature.

Under ESSB 5275, new developments or rebuilding would be allowed in a LAMIRD if it is demonstrated that public services there are sufficient to meet new demands. Land uses within the LAMIRD may also be revised as long as such use is consistent with “local character.”

A former Chelan County commissioner, Rep. Keith Goehner (R-12) told colleagues at the March 18 committee meeting that “this is a well overdue bill in my opinion. They (LAMRIDs) need to have some flexibility within them. When they were established in the initial comprehensive plans the counties submitted, it was…reflecting a built-out environment that was already in place.”

Rep. Davina Duerr (D-1) described the legislation as a “great, well-worked bill” that addresses areas that have “basically been frozen in time, because they’ve been unable to update and add services. It makes a lot of sense to add some amenities for people living out in those areas, like banking. That will only help.”

ESSB 5275 has not yet been assigned to another committee.

TJ Martinell is a native Washingtonian and award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Bellevue, he’s been involved in the news industry since working at his high school newspaper.

His investigative reporting for various community newspapers in the Puget Sound region has been recognized by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and the Society for Professional Journalists.

A graduate of Eastern Washington University, he has a B.A. in journalism and was the news editor of EWU’s student university newspaper.

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