It's OK for county governments to draw circles on land-use maps and call them "LAMIRDS." But the land uses inside those circles have to match what the state's Growth Management Act allows, according to a ruling announced Thursday by the Washington Supreme Court.
"LAMIRD" is land-speak shorthand for a Limited Area of More Intense Rural Development. These are nodes of commercial, residential or industrial development in rural areas where, generally speaking, it isn't allowed. There are scores of LAMIRDs in Washington, many of them crossroad settlements with only a few residents and a handful of stores. Others are well established and growing, although not incorporated. They've become the center of some bitter political battles, as counties try to conform their rural-urban distinctions to the requirements of the 1990 law.
The decision is a setback for property rights advocates who have demanded that counties liberalize their land use laws to allow more development around the edges of rural towns.
The court case, "Gold Star Resorts v. Futurewise," pitted the owner of a rural freeway intersection against the growth-management watchdog organization Futurewise, formerly 1000 Friends of Washington. That organization claimed victory in the decision, as the court requires Whatcom County to design and define its LAMIRDs in a more restrictive fashion that it has so far. The development boundaries have to follow GMA rules, which are based on the "built environment" when the GMA took effect, rather than county decisions made since that year.
While the ruling is directed at Whatcom County, it's certain to affect other counties as they try to govern the spread of residential and commercial development into the countryside. Futurewise Director of Planning Tim Trohimovich says the counties will have to base rural development decisions on what was physically built in 1990.
"Whatcom and other counties have tried to say 'these things are OK because we approved them,'" Trohimovich told Crosscut. "That doesn't work. They have to base it on what was actually in place in 1990, not on what was promised or approved."
The president of Gold Star Resorts, Bill Grant, acknowledged that Thursday's ruling is a setback for his company and other property owners with rural land that's been zoned for commercial or industrial use but never developed. His company's property is on I-5 at the intersection of Birch Bay-Lynden Road, north of Bellingham.
"It's been zoned for development for 30 or 35 years," Grant said. "Our land and a lot of land around it is needed to meet the commercial needs of the Blaine, Lynden, Ferndale area for the next 20 years."
However, Grant said, "We'll just make the best case we can to the county and hope that we're treated fairly. But we won't appeal the Supreme Court ruling."