Thurston County has begun the Comprehensive Plan Update, called Thurston 2045. As the name implies, the update will determine codes for the next twenty years.
One important question will depend on citizens’ values – do we want industrial development, including mega-warehouse complexes, on land currently zoned for agriculture?
Or do we want to follow the current Comp Plan and limit most industrial development in our rural areas to within one-half mile of I-5 interchanges?
The Industrial Lands Study (ILS), presented to the Thurston Board of County Commissioner on December 6, makes recommendations to make more industrial development possible. To read the study, go to https://www.thurstoncountywa.gov/departments/community-planning-and-economic-development-cped/community-planning/industrial
The ILS will not be reviewed by stakeholder groups. It will not be formally adopted by the county commissioners. However, its data and recommendations will be considered in future county land decisions. This article explains the loss of farmland and negative environmental effects of using the ILS to inform land use decisions.
Next Steps for Citizens
You can make comments at any time on the ILS by completing this form: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/BNCCML7
However, the most important time for citizens’ voices will be this spring – for Chapter 2 (Land) of the Comp Plan update. If we want to keep the rural character of our county, we will need to push back against the recommendations of the ILS. We must make oral and written comments when we will be heard and recorded. The draft Chapter 2 of Thurston 2045 will be published for public comment in April or May.
Like the 2021 Buildable Lands Report, the ILS states that there is plenty of land zoned industrial, almost all of it within cities or their Urban Growth Areas. But the ILS adds two criteria not in the Buildable Lands Report– the need for industrial developers to have CHOICE in buying and developing land and the need for projects of more than 40 acres. (The ILS does not specify how many acres are needed for developers’ choice nor how many huge distribution centers are needed or desirable.)
The ILS concludes that there is not enough industrially zoned land because of these two added criteria– and the many large distribution/warehouse projects built in the last five years, with many more already in the permitting stage. Another problem for developers, according to the ILS, is that most available industrial land lacks at least one service such as sewer, water, stormwater, or electricity.
ILS – Recommendations
Among several ILS recommendations to the county commissioners are:
* Work with the cities to expand the cities’ Urban Growth Areas (UGA) and rezone the new UGA lands to industrial (being within a city’s UGA allows extension or creation of services such as water, sewer, stormwater, and fire protection)
* Create no more than 2 industrial parks with services already in place for industrial development
*Rezone agricultural land to industrial to create more industrial areas, especially areas of more than 40 acres
*Expand current industrial zoning in rural parts of the county to 1 mile on both sides of I-5 (not .5 mile just at I-5 intersections, as in the current Comp Plan.)
* Where industrial projects will be on land with flood plains, create inset flood plains to reduce the extent of floodplains (dig out the sides of streams to the level of the streambed)
ILS and the Loss of Wildlife Habitat
If the ILS recommendations listed above are used as the basis for future land decisions, Thurston County over time will lose many miles of farmland. This will have a negative effect on the rural character of the county; we will lose open green space and working farms. Another negative will be the effect of ILS recommendations on wildlife habitat over the next twenty years.
Currently there are two projects that would be negatively affected by ILS recommendations, a wildlife corridor and requested industrial zoning for a particularly environmentally sensitive farm.
Planned Wildlife Corridor
Conservation Northwest and its partners are planning the Safe Passage I-5 project to connect the Cascade Mountains to the Olympic Peninsula for migration of mammals. Their highest priority I-5 crossing point in our area is only 2.5 miles south of Beaver Creek Farm. This project, many years in the making, has plotted the best pathways in our region for focal species like puma, beaver, and western gray squirrels to travel from the Mt. Rainier area to Aberdeen. The I-5 crossing will allow different subpopulations of wildlife species to mix and will prevent in-breeding. Adoption of the ILS recommendation to allow industrial development for one mile on both sides of I-5 will almost certainly block the creation of this crossing.
Beaver Creek Farm
The impetus for the ILS was the 2021 request by the owner of Beaver Creek Dairy Farm for a Comp Plan amendment to rezone from the current Rural Resource/Residential zoning to Rural Resource Industrial. zoning. WIP readers may remember that over 150 people wrote comments to prevent this request from being approved. County staff were faced with many similar requests for Comp Plan amendments to rezone parcels from agricultural to industrial, so they asked for the ILS to have more guidance when working with developers.
Beaver Creek Farm is a particularly sensitive area because Beaver Creek winds through most of the 365 acres. But the last three of the ILS recommendations listed above specifically target Beaver Creek Farm to allow it to be zoned industrial. To read more about Beaver Creek Farm and past and future efforts to save it from warehouse development, see the article in this January 2024 issue of WIP: https://olywip.org/beaver-creek-farm-targeted-for-warehouse-development/