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Snohomish County Weighs Options To Tighten Land Use In Slide-Prone Areas

Snohomish County Flickr

Three months after a deadly landslide hit the town of Oso, Washington, Snohomish County is again looking at options to tighten land-use policy in slide-prone areas. 

Three proposals will be the subject of a public hearing today in Everett. Two of them would stop new construction in the immediate area of the Oso slide and in the flood zone east of it. A third ordinance would affect development countywide by increasing permitting and title requirements for properties near steep slopes.

Kristin Kelly with Futurewise, a growth management watchdog group, is planning to testify in favor of all three. She says they’re a good first step.

“We need to stop building in hazardous areas — flood plain areas, landslide hazardous areas, places where we know that there’s true risk. And it’s not just the risk to the homeowner; it’s risk to the whole community. Because we all pay in some way when these things happen,” Kelly said. 

These discussions have been ongoing. A month after the Oso slide, the county took up the idea of a six-month moratorium on new developments within a half mile of steep slopes. But the Snohomish County Council abandoned that idea after it became clear it would have halted new home construction in most of the county.

Now the county is looking at narrower definitions and measures such as mandatory geotechnical studies and disclosures of risk to home buyers. Some of the proposed measures are controversial due to concerns about property rights and the ability to rebuild after the deadly slide.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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