Clark County kicks off update to land use plan


Officials from Clark County have begun the process of updating its Comprehensive Growth Management Plan, a yearslong endeavor intended to adjust how land use is regulated within the county.

On Jan. 19, the county hosted a project kickoff meeting at the Clark County Public Service Center in downtown Vancouver. The meeting included an overview of the process moving forward as the county aims to adopt its periodic update by the June 30, 2025 deadline.

The current update is the fifth one the county has undertaken since it adopted its first plan in 1994, Clark County Community Planning Director Oliver Orjiako said. Orjiako gave an overview of the steps in the process, which include the creation and implementation of a public participation plan.

Though adoption of the update is years out, Orjiako gave a tentative schedule of what he believes can be completed in 2023. He said the public participation plan could be adopted in March and a population projection could be selected by April. An employment projection could be complete by summer and population allocation across the county could be completed in the fall.

The project in its entirety will consist of a number of reviews, which include existing code and an environmental review under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). It also will include a Capital Facilities Plan and a financial plan to fund and maintain those facilities, as well as an arterial atlas that looks at the county’s future roadway system.

Clark County Senior Deputy Civil Attorney Christine Cook said public participation in the most recent plan update included hundreds of individuals and groups.

“This is not something where there’s a 12-member task force that meets in a room and nobody else can talk,” Cook said.

Dave Andersen, the managing director of the growth management program for the Washington State Department of Commerce, provided insight on the purpose of the update and tips on how to be successful in the process.

“This is the start of a conversation,” Andersen said.

He said the plan has to be compelling in its vision and goals, realistic in its forecast and analysis, and specific in what it does and does not allow.

“If you’ve never said ‘no’ because something in your plan didn’t agree with what you wanted to do, your plan’s probably not specific enough,” Andersen said. “Plans help you make tough decisions and helps make sure that you’re making those decisions in a way that is moving toward a goal.”

Although every state in the U.S. has a land use planning framework, the specifics differ state by state, Andersen said. He said Washington’s framework has a great degree of finality. After the legislative process that determines land use rules is complete, it can’t be adjusted.

“Washington law does not allow you to revisit those decisions when a permit hits the counter,” Andersen said.

Andersen said the periodic update allows for adjustments based on changes in state law that aren’t reflected in the existing plan and “on the ground facts” like actual population growth and development.

The periodic update differs from the comprehensive plan’s annual amendment process in its depth, Andersen said.

“You’re not essentially making a legislative decision just on those things that are in front of you,” Andersen said.

One of the first steps in the process is forecasting population growth. Andersen said counties are required to use the forecast from the Office of Financial Management (OFM).

That forecast gives a range of numbers, with the medium usually being a good approximation of where that growth will land, he said.

“Every time I’ve looked at it, it’s been within 1 and 2% of the OFM medium. It’s scary good,” Andersen said.

Andersen said for the latest update, housing targets need to be divided into more specific income levels.

“You need to make sure that you’re … planning for housing units at a variety of different income bands to make sure that everyone in the community has an opportunity for a home that they can afford,” Andersen said.

Andersen said the state Department of Commerce has developed breakdowns of income levels the county can use as a starting point.

Andersen also suggests looking at the current inventory of public facilities when reviewing county financial impacts of growth. Although development agreements might require developers to pay for infrastructure, it will be the local government’s job to maintain it.

“Start with the question of ‘can I accommodate my growth target within the area I’m already serving,’” Andersen said. “Use that as a control total on your overall growth strategy. Make sure you can afford it. … You’ll be glad you did in 20 years.”

Cook, whose work at the county includes land use law, spoke about the potential for challenges to the update.

“Sometimes an individual or entity thinks that the county, when it’s taken its actions under periodic review and update, has not complied with state law, either procedurally or substantively,” Cook said.

Cook believes there were 60 appeals to Clark County’s first comprehensive plan following its adoption in 1994. Updates since have faced a fewer number of appeals, with the 2016 update bringing challenges from cities and interest groups against what the county adopted.

Petitioners have 60 days after the publication of the adoption of the plan update to appeal the changes to the state Growth Management Hearings Board. Only those who participated in the plan update process orally or in writing are allowed to file an appeal, Cook noted.

“If you decide after you read an adopting ordinance for the county’s action that you don’t like what it did, but you never told the county about it while it was in the process of making the change, you don’t get to complain about it afterwards,” Cook said.


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  • Whoknows

    Just a lot to comment on for an article as important as this one. Tons of comments should stream in but I'd like to start with a seemingly less important one, yet it is important concerning this statement in the article above: "Clark County Senior Deputy Civil Attorney Christine Cook said public participation in the most recent plan update included hundreds of individuals and groups."

    I was caught wondering how many meetings the claimed "hundreds of individuals and groups" were scheduled in order to get to this number. And then were the scheduled meetings scattered over times of the say and week and weekend to allow for many different people and employees unable to get away from their work or evenings for these. It's a focus of concern for numbers representing all of the population to be able to attend. And if those scheduled meetings don't allow for that representation, then an online comment and questionnaire, to allow for a broader scope of Clark County population's participation, should be designed and counted just as the in-person numbers are currently.

    Tuesday, January 24 Report this