Urban Holding—Useful Planning Tool or An Impediment to Accommodating Growth

In both 1994 and 2004 as part of its Growth Management Plan, Clark County adopted an urban holding comprehensive plan designation as a special implementation procedure. This designation placed a “hold” on development until Clark County determined that the public facilities needed to support development were available.

In 1994, the use of urban holding was limited to a few parcels with special infrastructure needs. In contrast, the effect of the urban holding policy adopted in 2004 was to place all property designated for urban growth area expansion into the urban holding designation. As a result, no developable property has been added to urban growth areas since the first Growth Management Plan was adopted in 1994. As of May 1, 2006, this remains the case.

Both the development and environmental communities take issue with the substantive and procedural aspects of the 2004 version of the Clark County urban holding plan policy.

Development Community

From the development community’s perspective, the following issues raise concerns about the viability of the urban holding comprehensive plan policy:

  1. The policy does not establish objective criteria for removing the urban holding designation without annexation to a city. The urban holding plan policy effectively grants veto power over removing the urban holding designation to jurisdictions and agencies other than the County because a determination that “full urban service can be provided by the county, a city, and other special districts (including schools, fire and police protection, as well as water, sewer, roads, and drainage)” is required.
  2. The urban holding plan designation can be removed only on a subareawide basis and not by request from individual property owners. The process for removing the urban holding designation is a Type IV legislative process that can be initiated only by Clark County.
  3. The application of the urban holding designation fails to recognize areas with no deficiency in urban services; this makes applying the urban holding plan designation unnecessary in many areas.
  4. The language of the urban holding plan policy contains no guaranties that the designation would be removed at any time for any property.

Environmental Community

The environmental community believes that the urban holding policy is actually contrary to the County’s responsibility to comply with the capital facilities plan requirements of the Growth Management Act. It asserts that systemwide capital facilities plans are required before any land is made available for development. The environmental community believes that a case-by-case, project-by-project process for removing urban holding without systemwide capital facilities is not the proper standard.

Both the development and environmental communities appealed the application of urban holding in Clark County’s 2004 Growth Management Plan to the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board. Ultimately, upon Clark County’s promise to remove the urban holding designation, the development community withdrew its appeals.

Currently, representatives of the development community are diligently working to remove the urban holding plan designation. To date, the parties have agreed to utilize development agreements to ensure that developers will pay the necessary infrastructure costs. As always, the devil is in the details. Determining whether capital improvements are or can be available is proving to be an elusive task. Stay tuned for the end result.