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Preserving Thurston County’s Farms And Rural Character

This is part two of a two-part series on this issue. Click here to view part one.

Thurston County is in the process of updating its Comprehensive Plan, known as Thurston 2045. The comprehensive plan is the 20-year growth plan and policy document for unincorporated Thurston County that guides future land use, housing, economic development, population and employment growth, natural resource protection and capital facilities.

The Local Good Governance Coalition hosted Thurston County planners Ashley Arai and Ana Rodriguez at their December meeting to give input on their vision of what patterns of land use are consistent with rural character. Members of the Coalition spoke of the value of rural lands for their ecosystem functions, such as carbon sequestration, biodiversity, habitat and sustainability of our natural resources. They commented on how rural lands allow us to experience nature and raised concerns about how allowing higher density housing and industrial uses would degrade rural areas.

The Board of County Commissioners is considering allowing 14% of all new housing units in the unincorporated rural areas, which would include 1,000 new units for families earning 0-30% of the area median income. (AMI) This contradicts the Thurston Regional Planning Council’s recommendation to limit new housing in rural Thurston County to 5%. Housing allocations are still under discussion.

Limiting industrial uses beyond those related to agriculture, timber and mining (per the Growth Management Act) is a preference for many Coalition members, especially in the light of current proposals for warehouses in rural areas of the County which are facing opposition from the public for their negative impacts on rural character, air and water quality and wildlife habitat. Current Comp Plan language qualifies that home-based businesses are allowed if they do not affect residential uses, but does not say the same for industrial uses, which are more likely to have adverse impacts. Members also suggested supporting the farm economy through scenic byways with farm stands, safe bus stop areas, and bicycle/pedestrian trails.

The County is seeking input from residents about the Comp Plan. You can learn more and add your voice at Thurston 2045

Esther Kronenberg is a member of the Clean Black Alliance and the Local Good Governance Coalition

This is part two of a two-part series on this issue. Click here to view part one.

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