On Oct. 20, Cowlitz County filed a lawsuit challenging the ordinances and appealed the city’s actions to the Washington State Growth Management Hearing Board on Nov. 21.
The lawsuit states Woodland didn’t include the county in its renewed efforts to establish the agricultural zone and expand the urban growth area. The city’s actions circumvented environmental review, violated policies and didn’t include proper public or county participation, the lawsuit states.
On Dec. 19 the council voted 4-1 to rescind the ordinances “to avoid a costly and unnecessary legal battle,” according to the staff report. The lawsuit and the appeal to the state board were dismissed Jan. 9.
Goddard said the ordinances were part of an effort to plan ahead before requesting the county to change its comprehensive plan to match.
“It’s kind of a chicken and egg situation,” Goddard said. “We want to know how big we want to grow and ask the county to accommodate that, when the county felt we need to justify how big we need to grow.”
The city hopes the county will now take the lead on the master planning process; however, any plans need to comply with the Growth Management Act or the city won’t be able to use them, Goddard said.
Woodland officials hope the discussions with the county will lead to a joint agreement, as well as expanding the urban growth area, a specific plan for the Bottoms, and the county mitigating development impacts on the city.
Cowlitz County Commissioner Dennis Weber said the county wants to be “at the table” with Woodland to figure out the right growth management tools for the area and allow them to take the steps they want, while also “paying attention to folks who don’t want to annex into the city.”
Weber said he can sympathize with Woodland, as the city has to plan for utility use 20 years in advance under the Growth Management Act.
“They have to basically borrow money today to build for a customer base that doesn’t live inside the city yet,” he said.
County Commissioner Arne Mortensen said in general, he would support a plan the residents of the area want, but added the attempts to expand the boundary seem to boil down to “a quest for money.” In 2019, Woodland officials renewed requests that the county adopt development fees to help pay for the effects of growth outside city limits.
“I’m a little optimistic now we’ve gotten some pretty reasonable effort to get together and figure out what should be done, that something should be worked out,” Mortensen said.
Goddard said the city’s efforts to expand the urban growth area is not “a money grab or a power grab,” but a way to plan for unavoidable impacts of development on the city.
“Woodland is wrestling with problems we’re not solely responsible for,” he said. “It’s difficult and unfair for the citizens to shoulder that burden and not necessarily be treated as equals for the process.”