Jefferson County files appeal of state Growth Board decision

Commissioners say they were denied due process

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County commissioners filed an appeal to the Thurston County Superior Court over the shooting range ordinances that the commissioners are required to revise.

The commissioners filed Wednesday an appeal of the Growth Management Hearings Board’s Sept. 16 decision that determined the Title 8 and Title 18 ordinances of the Jefferson County Code were invalid and mandated that the county bring the codes to compliance with the Growth Management Act (GMA) by March 2.

The commissioners still plan to bring the two codes to compliance within the specified time frame, Philip Morley, county administrator said in a press release.

“The appeal to the Superior Court will not delay completing ongoing work by the county’s planning commission and board of county commissioners to amend the two ordinances to comply with the Growth Board’s decision and the GMA,” Morley said.

“On Sept. 23, 2019, the commissioners referred both ordinances to the county’s planning commission, tasking the planning commission with recommending changes that comply with the Growth Board’s decision, the GMA, state and federal law and the Supremacy Principle of the State and U.S. Constitutions which protect a citizen’s right to bear arms.”

The county filed the appeal “to protect the county’s due process rights and to gain additional guidance from the Growth Board on how to ensure the ordinances are consistent with the state’s Growth Management Act,” Morley said.

The process started after the Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB) sided with the Tarboo Ridge Coalition, which opposes Joe D’Amico’s proposed 40-acre shooting facility near Tarboo Ridge. The coalition petitioned the Growth Board to challenge the two county ordinances.

The commissioners and county officials believe the GMHB denied the county due process. The board ruled on whether the county had conducted a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review, which was not an issue that was presented to the board, Morley said.

The GMHB also failed to follow its own rules by refusing to rule on whether Title 8 or Title 18 were consistent with the GMA, Morley said.

According to Morley, the board ruled without evidence that the county had failed to perform a SEPA review on Title 18.

The county did conduct a SEPA review and when the county asked the GMHB to reconsider its decision, it acknowledged the county had completed a SEPA review but did not allow the county to add the analysis to the record, Morley said.

“The appeal will preserve the integrity of the Growth Board system,” Morley said. “The Growth Board’s rules require that it settle on a list of issues for the decision.

“Once these issues are set by the Growth Board, it is required to decide all of the issues on the list, and it is not allowed to decide issues that are not on the list. The county believes the Growth Board’s decision violated both rules.”

The GMHB gave the county little guidance on how to bring the ordinances to compliance, because it decided on the SEPA compliance without evidence and it did not decide on whether the two ordinances were consistent with the Growth Management Act, Morley said.

The appeal also is being filed to protect state funding that the county has received for the Port Hadlock Sewer Project, Morley said.

The county had until today to file an appeal before the ability to challenge the decision expired. The commissioners are seeking an expedited review, requiring a hearing within 60 days of the court receiving the complete record from the Growth Management Hearing Board, Morley said.

“We’re making changes to both ordinances to comply with the Growth Board’s decision,” Kate Dean, commission chair said. “But at the same time, the Growth Board didn’t give us a fair chance to make our case, and left us to make changes in a vacuum because the Growth Board didn’t give us guidance on how to comply.”

The county staff and commissioners will complete the revision of the two ordinances by the March deadline while the county conducts the appeals process to “protect due process” and gain additional guidance from the Growth Board, Morley said.

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at zjablonski@peninsuladailynews.com.

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