Today’s children will live in the future we create
“The devil is in the details” is all too true when it comes to Comprehensive Plans that determine the shape of the communities we live in. The plans identify a series of goals, objectives, policies, actions and standards that guide day-to-day decisions of local government officials. The plans go a long way to determining how quiet our streets will be, whether there will be trees, thriving farms and wetlands, will there be affordable places for families to live, and on and on.
If or when it comes time to challenge a decision by city or county officials, the specific language in the chapters of these plans will suddenly become very significant.
Comprehensive Plans were mandated by Washington State’s 1990 Growth Management Act as a way to ensure that population growth would be accommodated in local communities without jeopardizing the environment and quality of life over the long term.
…the task of updating these plans comes with a requirement for robust public participation.
Thurston County and the cities within it must update these consequential plans by June 30, 2025. Fortunately, the task of updating (or, amending) these plans comes with a requirement for robust public participation. This includes establishing a work program with a public participation component along with a public engagement program. That in theory gives everyone the opportunity to contribute to the plan and to ensure that the devil does not get into the details. It pays to pay attention.
The Local Good Governance Coalition has been following and participating in the Comprehensive Plan update. The Coalition has been educating and encouraging its members to submit comments that will influence the specific changes proposed over the next two years. Each jurisdiction’s process for completing the updates will be slightly different.
Thurston County’s Comprehensive Plan contains 13 planning goals. The Department of Commerce, which oversees implementation of the Growth Management Act, requires updates under goals related to land use, natural resource lands, housing, capital facilities, utilities, rural areas, transportation, recreation and open space and zoning. Updates to other elements of the Plan can be suggested by the Commissioners and the public, but they must be consistent with new state law.
The County set the scope of work for its Thurston 2045 update based on the required changes coupled with a survey of the community about what areas residents want the County to include.
950 survey responses and 121 public comments showed a strong interest in the inclusion of the following: climate mitigation, protecting sensitive areas and farmland, outreach to underrepresented communities and increasing the availability of affordable housing.
Comments received to date reinforced the results of the survey, and asked as well for consideration of environmental justice, inclusion of quantitative measures and a mid-cycle check to track goals, along with requests to include the rights of nature in County planning decisions.
Members of the Thurston Planning Commission were then given six options to consider in drafting a scope of work. These were in addition to updates to address affordable housing and policy changes needed to preserve farmland. The Planning Commission ranked these options highest: climate change, a currently in-process Industrial Lands Study (which will help determine if and where warehouses will be allowed in rural areas), and the use of metrics to gauge progress.
After hearing the comments of the Planning Commission and the public, County Commissioners approved all six optional items, essentially opening up all chapters in the County’s Comprehensive Plan for potential change.
County officials plan to engage the public through a minimum of two public hearings, open houses, social media and staff visits to community groups during the outreach period this summer to late fall. The Board of County Commissioners will review the draft updates over the period from September 2024 until June 2025.
You can read about the current Comprehensive Plan and the Thurston 2045 update and leave comments and questions on the Thurston Planning webpage:
Olympia last completed a major update of their Comprehensive Plan in 2014. City officials have decided that their process for creating the update will be to work individually on each of 11 chapters – including a separate public participation process for each chapter.
They began work on “Olympia 2045” by posting an online survey asking people to agree or disagree with a series of aspirational statements about Chapter 1, the “vision and values” Olympia has for its future. (The survey closed on May 31.) Feedback on issues for the next chapter, “Public Participation and Partners” will be invited this summer. Find out more at http://engage.olympiawa.gov/olympia2045
In general, Tumwater’s update will continue the vision expressed in its 2016 Comprehensive Plan and incorporate changes as required by county and city regulations. According to Tumwater Planning Manager Brad Medrud, Tumwater is finalizing a public participation plan that “will include a general schedule of meetings as well as our Comprehensive Plan update website and an email specifically for comments and questions on the update.” Tumwater will begin the formal process of amending each chapter of its Plan next year, with opportunities for public comment included.
The Lacey Planning Commission’s work plan for 2023 focuses on the following chapters for their update: Comprehensive Plan Outreach, Economic Development, Housing and Transportation. All but the chapter on Transportation will be completed this year. According to Ryan Andrew, Lacey Planning Manager, the public will be invited to comment on each chapter being revised. Watch the city’s website for opportunities to participate.
To contact the Local Good Governance Coalition, email LGGColy@gmail.com
Charlotte Persons and Esther Kronenberg are participants in the Local Good Government Coalition.