Benton planners offer look at zoning change proposal

Benton County residents interested in the quality of quiet country life may be interested in attending one of two meetings in January to learn about proposed changes that will affect what people can do on their rural property.

The meetings are scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. Jan. 11 at the Prosser Planning Annex, 1002 Dudley Ave., in Prosser, and from 5 to 7 p.m. Jan. 18 at the Benton PUD at West 10th Avenue and Highway 395 in Kennewick.

Intended as open houses, the meetings will be informational and are not for receiving comment or testimony.

County planning staff are holding the open houses to introduce proposed draft rural lands zoning ordinances and maps and to help the public understand that county zoning has to be consistent with the county's comprehensive plan, as required by the Washington State Growth Management Act.

The act was passed by the state Legislature in 1990 to create a method for comprehensive land use planning involving citizens, communities, counties, cities, and the private sector that would prevent uncoordinated and unplanned growth.

Susan Walker, senior planner in Benton County, said the open houses are a prelude to a series of workshops and public meetings to be held later in 2011, before the draft ordinances are adopted in late summer.

The draft ordinances would apply to five designated planning areas in unincorporated areas of the county: Prosser-Whitstran; Benton City-Kiona; Richland-West Richland; Kennewick-Finley; and Paterson and Plymouth.

Walker said the proposed changes won't be a surprise to most rural residents because they've been part of comprehensive plan discussions for more than a decade.

"We just want people who've been interested to take another look," she said.

The main focus is not to rezone areas, but to specify what activities will be allowed.

"This will regulate what people can do within a certain zone," Walker explained.

While county officials have been working on the updates since 1996 as required by the Growth Management Act, this is the first round of open houses since 2003, Walker said.

"We want to get everyone who is interested to familiarize themselves with the draft zoning ordinances," she said.

The 2011 zoning update program is expected to take most of the year and will be done in two batches: rural residential/larger rural parcels, and then commercial/industrial and Hanford related.

The process for residential/larger rural parcels will have a planning commission hearing Feb. 8, with further hearings before county commissioners Feb. 16 and March 14.

The process for commercial/ industrial/Hanford will include workshops in March and May, with planning commission hearings in April and June, and going before county commissioners in May and July.

Once completed, the zoning update will make Benton County's designated land uses and zoning consistent with its comprehensive plan, as required by the state's Growth Management Act.

Walker said county officials intended to complete the task in 2010. But a number of land use issues, including several challenges to the Eastern Washington Growth Management Appeals Board about commissioners' decisions on land use, pushed back that goal.

For more information about the open houses and the schedule for public meetings on the draft zoning ordinances, go to www.co.benton.wa.us and follow the link to planning, then to the 2011 zoning update program web page.