Chapter 4.28
OPEN SPACE, AGRICULTURAL AND TIMBERLAND POLICIES AND PROCEDURES

Sections:

4.28.010    Purpose.

4.28.020    General provisions - Open space-general.

4.28.030    Policies - Open space-general.

4.28.040    Designation criteria and standards - Open space-general.

4.28.050    Policies - Timberland.

4.28.060    Designation criteria and standards - Timberland.

4.28.070    Application standards.

4.28.080    Performance standards and change in use.

4.28.085    Procedure

4.28.090    Definitions.

4.28.010 Purpose.

The legislature has enacted chapter 84.34 RCW, wherein it has declared "that it is in the best interest of the state to maintain, preserve, conserve and otherwise continue in existence adequate open space lands for the production of food, fiber and forest crops, and to assure the use and enjoyment of natural resources and scenic beauty for the economic and social well-being of the state and its citizens" and has further declared "that assessment practices must be so designed as to permit the continued availability of open space lands for these purposes."

(Added Ord. 92-080, July 23, 1992).

4.28.020 General provisions - Open space-general.

The policies and criteria in SCC 4.28.030 and 4.28.040 are designed to serve as a guide for the implementation of the open space taxation act, chapter 84.34 RCW, passed by the state legislature. Specifically the policies express the desired circumstances in which the county deems it appropriate to consider open space-general tax assessment, thus preserving some lands for open space as scenic, recreational and environmental resources for present and future benefit. Not all land in the county, however, can be considered desirable or valuable for open space classification. Therefore, in order to provide a better basis for evaluating applications for current use assessment, a set of criteria and standards has been developed. The criteria and standards are designed to further detail the intent of the policies and facilitate the application evaluation process.

(Added Ord. 92-080, July 23, 1992).

4.28.030 Policies - Open space-general.

The following county policies for open space-general classification are intended to supplement chapters 84.34 RCW and 458-30 WAC.

(1) Preserve lands where there are unique historic, cultural, and scientific or educational features.

(2) Preserve areas which have an abundance of wildlife, particularly where there are habitats of rare, sensitive, threatened or endangered species.

(3) Preserve natural areas and open space land in areas which provide scenic vistas or are adjacent to scenic highways.

(4) Preserve Natural Resources Conservation Service land capability class 2 and 3 agricultural soils in non-flood plain areas for future use for agricultural purposes.

(5) Protect steep sloped and geologically hazardous areas from development.

(6) Provide for buffer lands between residential and commercial and industrial development.

(7) Preserve wetland areas.

(8) Provide wherever possible, vehicular or pedestrian access to public bodies of water.

(9) Preserve stream corridors in their natural state.

(10) Provide access, buffering and expanded recreational opportunities by locating open space areas adjacent to public lands such as schools and parks.

(11) Provide for the preservation of private recreational areas which are open to the general public.

(12) Distribute open space throughout urban areas in such a manner that there is both visual relief and variety in the pattern of development and that there is sufficient space made available for passive and active recreation.

(13) Utilize open space areas as both visual and physical buffers between areas of intense development and areas devoted to residential use.

(14) Encourage the placement of private lands into open space reserves in order to protect and preserve fragile natural resources such as those in areas located adjacent to or including lakes, rivers, streams, or salt water areas.

(15) Provide lands which would be suitable for future recreational uses both of a passive and active type.

(16) Utilize open space lands to provide logical physical barriers to discourage continuous urban sprawl and restrict the spread of urban blight.

(17) Preserve those areas which have unique, rare, sensitive, threatened, or endangered types of vegetation.

(18) Recognize the benefits of private open space when such lands contribute to overall visual relief in areas of extensive urban or suburban development and when such areas provide for public recreation.

(19) Provide open space-general classification for protective buffer areas required by development regulations implementing the Growth Management Act.

(Added Ord. 92-080, July 23, 1992; Amended by Amended Ord. 14-054, Aug. 20, 2014, Eff date Sep. 4, 2014).

4.28.040 Designation criteria and standards - Open space-general.

The following areas may be considered for designation as open space-general:

(1) Urban areas where the entire site is in an undeveloped, natural state and has slopes of 25 percent or greater or where at least one-half of the total site area is in slopes of at least 35 percent in gradient.

(2) Areas designated on the comprehensive land use plan or the county park and recreation plan as potential parks, trails, or open space, or designated as a critical area or environmentally sensitive area.

(3) Areas which have plant or animal species which are considered rare, sensitive, threatened or endangered by an authority recognized by the county.

(4) Sites within urban areas to be left in their natural state where the site is of at least one acre in size and is predominantly forested with mature, specimen trees.

(5) Areas which are in an undeveloped, natural state and are not under the jurisdiction of the state Shoreline Management Act and are situated within stream corridors, i.e., streams and/or their associated stream buffers on either side of the stream. Buffer width may be increased from the standards for streams listed in SCC 30.62A.320 Table 2a due to topographic, vegetative or wildlife habitat features which would logically suggest a wider buffer.

(6) Undeveloped, natural areas adjacent to water bodies which come under the jurisdiction of the state Shoreline Management Act and are designated by the Snohomish County Shoreline Management Program.

(7) Sites within an urban area which would serve as a buffer between residential development and tracts of land in excess of five acres which are designated on an adopted comprehensive plan for commercial or industrial development:

(a) Where the site area is covered by stands of trees in excess of 20 feet in height; and

(b) Where the ground vegetation creates a visual separation of at least 50 feet between the residential tracts of land and the commercial or industrial lands; or

(c) Where the topographic features of the site form a physical separation from the abutting commercial or industrial lands by reason of a gully or ravine or similar land condition.

(8) Areas that would safely provide either public vehicular or pedestrian access to public bodies of water:

(a) Where the site area abutting the water is at least 60 feet in width for vehicular access; or

(b) Where the site area abutting the water is at least 25 feet in width for pedestrian access.

(9) Areas which provide a scenic vista to which the general public has safe vehicular or pedestrian access.

(10) Sites devoted to private outdoor recreational pursuits such as golf courses, riding stables, lakes, etc., PROVIDED That access to such facilities and areas is provided to the general public free of charge or at reasonable, customary rates.

(11) Areas which contain features of unique historic, cultural or educational values which are open to the public’s use, (e.g., public access to displays, interpretive centers, etc.), free of charge or at reasonable, customary rates:

(a) Where there are several varieties or species of flora, fauna, or both present on the site making it desirable for educational study; or

(b) Where there are habitats or species of plant life which are considered rare, sensitive, threatened or endangered by an authority recognized by the county; or

(c) Where there is or are recognized landmarks present on the site which provide visual reference and orientation for surrounding terrain (would include major promontories and rock formations but would exclude mountain forms and ranges); or

(d) Where there are historic or archeological features on the site of at least 50 years of age, which would have value to future generations due to the uncommon nature or rare representation of past times and events.

(12) Areas located adjacent to public parks, public trails or other public lands which would materially add to or enhance the recreational opportunities of that facility:

(a) Where such a site would constitute a logical extension of the park or other public lands including provisions for public use but had been excluded principally by lack of funds; or

(b) Where the site would provide additional public access to such lands during the duration of its open space classification; or

(c) Where the site contains unique features of recreational value which if public use of the site were allowed would expand the variety of recreational opportunities contained in the park or public lands; or

(d) Where the site would act as a buffer between the park and surrounding development.

(13) Areas which contain or abut managed or monitored wildlife preserves or sanctuaries, arboretums or other designated open space and which will enhance the value of those resources:

(a) Where the open space designation would encompass a minimum of 10 acres in land area; and

(i) Where plant life and/or animal life contained within the site are found in abundant varieties; or

(ii) Where the site area can be distinguished from surrounding lands due to the unusualness of the vegetation or the animal life inhabitants.

(14) Wetland areas of at least one-fourth acre in size. Associated wetland buffers may also be included. The wetland buffer width may be increased from the standard wetland buffer listed in SCC 30.62A.320 Table 2b due to topographic, vegetative or wildlife habitat features which would logically suggest a wider buffer.

(15) Areas which lie adjacent to scenic highways which if not designated as open space would otherwise be subject to pressures for intense development:

(a) Where such highways have been designated by a city, the county or the state as scenic; and

(b) Where at least one-half of the total site lies within 200 feet of the highway; and

(c) Where pressures for urbanization are evident either due to provision of public water and sewer facilities to the area, subdivision activity in the immediate vicinity of the site, or the development of previously platted lands.

(16) Undeveloped areas five acres and larger which are not within the 100-year flood plain, suitable for agricultural pursuits which may not currently be devoted to such use:

(a) Where the comprehensive land use plan or the agricultural preservation plan designates the site as suitable for agricultural development; or

(b) Where more than 75 percent of the total site area contains tillable class 2 or 3 agricultural soils as categorized by the Natural Resources Conservation Service land capability classification system.

(17) Undeveloped areas which contain a minimum of five acres which are located within the 100-year flood plain as established by Snohomish County.

(18) Areas where the entire site is in an undeveloped, natural state and is considered geologically hazardous by an authority recognized by the county.

(19) Areas which are protective buffers as required by development regulations implementing the Growth Management Act.

(20) Farm and agricultural conservation land as defined in RCW 84.34.020(8):

(a) Land that was previously classified under RCW 84.34.020(2) that no longer meets the criteria of subsection RCW 84.34.020(2), and that is reclassified under RCW 84.34.020(1); or

(b) Land that is traditional farmland that is not classified under chapter 84.33 or 84.34 RCW, that has not been irrevocably devoted to a use inconsistent with agricultural uses, and that has a high potential for returning to commercial agriculture.

(Added Ord. 92-080, July 23, 1992; Amended by Amended Ord. 12-025, June 6, 2012, Eff date July 27, 2012; Amended by Amended Ord. 14-054, Aug. 20, 2014, Eff date Sep. 4, 2014).

4.28.050 Policies - Timberland.

The open space taxation act was established to provide incentives for the retention of three distinct types of land in their current use: unique natural resource areas, farms, and land "devoted primarily to the growth and harvest of forest crops." With respect to the latter, the legislature states "that it is in the best interest of the state to maintain, preserve, conserve and otherwise continue in existence adequate open space land for the production of . . . forest crops and to assure the use . . . of natural resources . . . for the economic and social well-being of the state and its citizens," (RCW 84.34.010). The legislature provided that applications for classification as timberland under this law are to be evaluated by the county council, and in evaluating an application for timberland classification the council is to consider the benefits of preserving the present use of the land in relation to the potential loss of revenue from approving current use taxation.

The county clearly can exercise discretion in the granting of timberland applications. If exercised, this discretion should seek to further the purposes of the open space act. The "growth and harvest of forest crops" should be a long-term, intensive process of managing a forest area to achieve its highest value if it is to truly be a benefit to the welfare of the county’s residents. Forest lands have commodity and non-commodity values which include timber, wildlife, recreation, water quality, science, education and alternative products. The highest value of a particular tract of forest land may be achieved by managing for one or more commodity and/or non-commodity values. Unmanaged forest growth and harvest will yield poor results and in the long run, reduce the quality of the forest areas available for productive commercial use. The giving of tax incentives, such as classification of land as "timberland," shall be utilized in Snohomish County to encourage the highest level of environmentally sound timber management and to encourage forestry to be practiced in a sustained high yield manner in appropriate areas. The county should encourage timberland applicants to employ alternative forestry methods such as "uneven-aged management" and other techniques which provide greater sensitivity to the environment, maximizes non-commodity values and contributes to a diversity of ecosystems.

(Added Ord. 92-080, July 23, 1992; Amended by Amended Ord. 14-054, Aug. 20, 2014, Eff date Sep. 4, 2014).

4.28.060 Designation criteria and standards - Timberland.

Any parcel of land, or portion thereof, that is five or more acres or multiple parcels of land, or portions thereof, that are contiguous and total five or more acres which is or are devoted primarily to the growth and harvest of timber for commercial purposes may be considered for designation as timberland.

(Added Ord. 92-080, July 23, 1992; Amended by Amended Ord. 14-054, Aug. 20, 2014, Eff date Sep. 4, 2014).

4.28.070 Application standards.

(1) Applicants for open space-general classification or timberland classification, or any reclassification, shall submit the following to the assessor’s office:

(a) A completed application form.

(b) A legal description of the subject property.

(c) A detailed site plan of the subject property at sufficient scale to show any existing or proposed development, roads, easements and trails. Critical areas described in chapter 30.62A SCC, including streams, wetlands, lakes marine waters, and their associated buffers must also be shown together with any proposed buffers and any other salient features which may be appropriate to include depending on which criteria have been claimed by the applicant. If open space or timberland classification is being sought on a portion of the property, the site plan must clearly delineate (with specific dimensions) the portion of the property for which the classification is requested. (Developed portions of the property are generally not eligible for timberland classification; exceptions to this include roads and trails.)

(d) A vicinity map.

(e) A non-refundable fee of $500.00.

(2) In addition to the requirements of subsection (1), applicants for open space-general classification shall also submit an "open space checklist" in which the applicant discloses the designation criteria he/she wishes to claim as being met on the subject property. Applicants must provide materials justifying how their property meets the criteria selected.

(3) Pursuant to RCW 84.34.041, all applications for timberland classification shall be made upon forms prepared by the Department of Revenue and supplied by the granting authority and shall be accompanied by a Timber Management Plan. Pursuant to Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 458-30-232(2) and (5)(b), a Timber Management Plan must include the following elements:

(a) A legal description of or the parcel number(s) of all land the applicant desires to be classified as timber land;

(b) The date or dates the land was acquired;

(c) A statement that the timber land is held in contiguous ownership of at least five acres and is primarily devoted to and used to grow and harvest timber;

(d) A brief description of the timber on the land or, if the land has been recently harvested or supports a growth of brush and noncommercial type timber, a description of the owner’s plan to restock the timber land within three years;

(e) If the timber or forest management plan for the land has existed for more than one year, the application must indicate the nature and extent to which the plan has been implemented or changed;

(f) A statement about whether the timber land is also used to graze livestock;

(g) A statement about whether the land has been subdivided or a plat has been filed with respect for the land;

(h) A statement about whether the land and the applicant have complied with the restocking, forest management, fire protection, insect and disease control, weed control, and forest debris provisions of title 76 RCW or applicable rules under title 76 RCW;

(i) A statement about whether the land is subject to forest fire protection assessments under RCW 76.04.610;

(j) A statement about whether the land is subject to a lease, option, or other right that permits the land to be used for a purpose other than growing and harvesting timber;

(k) A summary of the applicant’s past experience and activities in growing and harvesting timber;

(l) A summary of the applicant’s current and continuing activities in growing and harvesting of timber; and

(m) A statement that the applicant is aware of the potential tax liability involved if the land ceases to be classified as timber land.

(Added Ord. 92-080, July 23, 1992; Amended Ord. 06-061, Aug. 1, 2007, Eff date Oct. 1, 2007; Amended by Ord. 09-132, Nov. 23, 2009, Eff date Jan. 1, 2010; Amended by Amended Ord. 14-054, Aug. 20, 2014, Eff date Sep. 4, 2014).

4.28.080 Performance standards and change in use.

(1) Open Space-General. Developed portions of a property are generally not eligible for open space classification. Exceptions to this include but are not limited to: outdoor recreational facilities, interpretive centers, outdoor displays, etc. Lands which have been granted open space classification must remain in a natural, undeveloped state and/or provide the features for which the classification was granted. Development or subdivision of the property may result in revocation of the open space classification. Failure to meet the intent of the designation criteria and standards or any conditions of approval will result in revocation of the classification and the assessment of taxes and penalties pursuant to chapters 84.34 RCW and 458-30 WAC.

(2) Timberland. The following standards are designed to insure that properties designated "timberland" provide well managed, environmentally sound timber production:

(a) Management standards specified by a forest management plan and/or a detailed statement of management are binding conditions of timberland application approval. Timberland classification may be revoked if approval conditions are not met. Development or subdivision of the property may result in revocation of the classification as well.

(b) Buffering of critical areas, including streams, wetlands, lakes, and marine waters, is required as per state forest practices regulations (WAC 222-30-021). The state terminology "riparian management zone" is comparable to "buffers" in chapter 30.62A SCC. Buffer widths shall be sufficient to comply with critical area buffer requirements in chapter 30.62A SCC. Any harvesting or site disturbance which constitutes a violation of the state Forest Practices Act or the conditions of a state forest practice permit or applicable county regulations may result in revocation of the timberland classification.

(Added Ord. 92-080, July 23, 1992; Amended Ord. 06-061, Aug. 1, 2007, Eff date Oct. 1, 2007; Amended by Amended Ord. 14-054, Aug. 20, 2014, Eff date Sep. 4, 2014).

4.28.085 Procedure

(1) Applications for open space classification or reclassification shall comply with the procedural requirements of SCC 30.73.045(1), 30.73.070, and 30.73.080. No other sections of chapter 30.73 SCC shall apply to such decisions.

(2) The granting authority shall consider and act on applications for open space-general and timberland classification or reclassification in a manner consistent with the review factors and criteria in RCW 84.34.037 and 84.34.041.

(Added Amended Ord. 06-042, July 26, 2006, Eff date Aug. 11, 2006; Amended by Amended Ord. 14-054, Aug. 20, 2014, Eff date Sep. 4, 2014).

4.28.090 Definitions.

As used in this chapter, the following terms shall have the meanings set forth in this section unless the context clearly indicates otherwise.

(1) "Buffer" means an area, typically in association with an environmentally sensitive feature, which is retained in its natural state. No clearing, grading or filling is permitted within a buffer. Trees which are diseased or pose a hazard to life or property may be removed with county approval. Buffers must be preserved from intrusion by livestock.

(2) "Geologically hazardous area" means areas that because of their susceptibility to erosion, sliding, earthquake, or other geological events, may not be suitable for development consistent with public health or safety concerns. Such areas are characterized by geologic, hydrologic and topographic conditions that render them susceptible to potentially significant or severe risk of landslides, erosion, seismic subsidence or similar activity. Geologically hazardous areas include erosion hazard areas, landslide hazard areas, mine hazard areas and seismic hazard areas.

(3) "Natural" means land that is free of significant site improvements that has substantially retained its original character and land that, although altered in character, is important as habitat for plant, animal or marine life.

(4) "Natural Resources Conservation Service land capability classification" means a system of grouping soils primarily on the basis of their capability to produce common cultivated crops and pasture plants without deteriorating over a long period of time.

(5) "Open space checklist" means a form prepared by the planning department and submitted by the applicant on which the applicant checks off which of the designation criteria are met on the subject property.

(6) "Site" means the lot or parcel, or portion thereof, which is subject to an open space application.

(7) "Stream" shall have the meaning as defined in SCC 30.91S.640.

(8) "Timber Management Plan" means a plan prepared by a professional forester, or by another person who has adequate knowledge of timber management practices, concerning the use of the land to grow and harvest timber.

(9) "Traditional Farmland" means land that has historically been commercially cultivated.

(10) "Undeveloped" means land that is substantially free of structures and impervious surfaces.

(11) "Urban area" means an area, designated on an adopted comprehensive plan with a density of two or more dwelling units per acre; and/or zoned residential 20,000 (R-20,000), or at a higher density than R-20,000; and/or within an incorporated area. Upon the adoption of urban growth boundaries, pursuant to RCW 36.70A.110, urban area shall be defined as the areas within the adopted boundaries.

(12) "Wetland" shall have the meaning as defined in SCC 30.91W.060.

(Added Ord. 92-080, July 23, 1992; Amended Ord. 98-057, § 1, Aug. 3, 1998, Eff date Sept. 19, 1998; Ord. 02-098, December 9, 2002, Eff date February 1, 2003; Amended by Amended Ord. 14-054, Aug. 20, 2014, Eff date Sep. 4, 2014).