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Volume 12, Issue 9
September 2014


Ordinance Season
By Virginia Bruce

In Washington County, what most people think of as laws are proposed and passed as ordinances. This article is specifically about Land Use Ordinances; other ordinances may be handled somewhat differently. Under the current County Charter, Land Use Ordinances can only be considered between March 1 and October 31. The Washington County Board of Commissioners (BCC) votes to adopt, engross, continue, or reject the ordinances.

Suggestions for Land Use Ordinances, in the form of Work Program requests, “really do come from anyone—commissioners, staff, residents, developers, other agencies or service providers, etc.,” says Stephen Roberts, Communications Coordinator for the Land Use and Transportation (LUT) division.

Current Ordinances under consideration include 786, which proposes to make it easier to incorporate residential development in the Community Business District; 781, which refers to digital billboards; and 792 relating to standards for medical marijuana dispensaries. Others change the requirements for farmers’ markets (784), and to allow certain signs and artwork in various areas (782). You can view the current list and also sign up for notices on this LUT page.

Mary Manseau, former chair of CPO 7 and current member of the County Planning Commission, says, “CPOs make suggestions, developers make suggestions, and of course both Staff (including Current Planning, Long Range Planning and Operations/Maintenance Departments) and Commissioners can make requests. Still other ordinances are required because of changes in state law, or are required because of adoption of new Urban Growth Boundaries or urban-rural reserves, or updates to other county documents like the Transportation System Plan (TSP) Update. The Work Program includes all requests made during the current year and those that were included, but not addressed, from the previous year's Work Program.”

Starting each November, the Long Range Planning Section of the Planning and Development Services Division compiles all requests for actions (some of which might require an ordinance), and prepares a draft Work Program for approval by the BCC. The Work Program describes planning projects, potential land use ordinances, and other Long Range Planning activities for the year.

A useful flowchart with procedures and contact information is on the county Work Program page, just scroll to the bottom and click on the image.

Generally in February, the draft Work Program is sent to a number of organizations and interested parties and is available on the county website for review and comment by the public. After the 30-day public comment period, the Board considers and adopts the final Work Program at a meeting, generally in April.

The Work Program has three tiers: Tier 1 is comprised of items that will be addressed during the current ordinance season; Tier 2 includes items that will be addressed only if additional staff time is available during the current year; and Tier 3 items are those where, “there is no way that there will be time to address them in the current year,” says Manseau. “In recent years there have been requests that have simply fallen off the list because of lack of interest on the part of the current BCC to address the issue—an example of this would be the tree code group request [a group of citizens proposed that the county adopt a tree code, such as many other jurisdictions use, to protect trees threatened by development].”

Once an item makes it to Tier 1 of the Work Program, The BCC may require that Staff prepare an Issue Paper, to provide information the BCC to aid them in giving direction to Staff to draft an ordinance. Whether an issue paper is written or not, the actual ordinance text is drafted as a team effort between LUT staff and County Counsel staff.

Once drafted and filed with the State, , the ordinance goes to the Planning Commission for a Public Hearing and for their recommendations. “The Planning Commission only makes recommendations to the BCC on changes to a draft ordinance,” Manseau explains. “The BCC has the final say.”

After that, the ordinance is placed on the Board agenda for the first reading and the first public hearing. Any changes to an ordinance, once it’s been read during a BCC meeting, require the ordinance to be ‘engrossed.’ An engrossed ordinance is required to have two additional BCC public hearings before being adopted. Manseau notes, “An ordinance can be engrossed multiple times, but I do not believe in the time that I’ve spent on the Planning Commission that any ordinances have been engrossed more than once.”

Do ordinances ever just die? “Generally, an ordinance is tweaked until it is adopted,” Manseau says. “It is possible for the BCC to decide against adopting an ordinance after hearing from the public, or for the BCC to decide that an ordinance is just a bad idea. The rooster ordinance (although not a Land Use Ordinance) is an example of an action that the BCC decided against after learning more about the issue.”

Roberts notes, “The ‘ordinance season’ is a unique twist here in Washington County. The Planning Commission has suggested the Board consider getting rid of it, but at a recent work session, the Board didn’t seem ready to take action on that suggestion.”

He continues, “If an ordinance hasn’t been adopted by the end of the season (October 31), it’s considered “dead” unless it’s continued by the Board to a date specific on or after March 1 of the following year (so they can “hibernate” over the winter).” Chapter X of the County Charter has the full procedure for Land Use Ordinances.


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Publisher/Editor:Virginia Bruce
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