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King County: It’s a race against time to protect remaining natural lands, green spaces

Summary

The “Save Weyerhaeuser Campus” campaign in Federal Way is highlighted as King County Executive Dow Constantine lays out an urgent case for the Land Conservation Initiative and proposes legislation aimed at hastening open space investment to improve green space access across a rapidly developing county.

Story

A push to save lakeshore forests and trails for public use at the iconic Weyerhaeuser Campus in Federal Way is among key examples that King County Executive Dow Constantine cited today as he announced legislation aimed at accelerating investments in open space conservation and making sure all county residents have access to nearby green spaces.

“Green and open spaces, clean air and water, and places for quiet reflection, an uninterrupted walk or for watching our children play – these are core to our health and our quality of life,” said Executive Constantine. “If we want to provide and improve these opportunities for King County residents, then we need to make investments in every part of our county before it is too late.”

The legislation announced today is the first in a series of actions King County and its regional partners are taking in support of the Land Conservation Initiative, a campaign to preserve 65,000 acres of remaining vital and at-risk open space lands in King County within a generation (30 years), before the opportunity is lost due to population growth and development pressure.

King County added nearly 50,000 new residents in 2017, and an additional 200,000 more residents are expected over the next decade. 

In response to this increased pressure on public open spaces, farmland, and environmentally valuable lands, Executive Constantine announced he is sending legislation to the King County Council on May 24 that would accelerate open space investments to protect the livability, health, and ecological integrity of King County for all residents. 

“Like the rest of the county, South King County is growing quickly,” said King County Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer. “Investing in green spaces like those on the Weyerhaeuser Campus is important to our regional quality of life and economy – just as investing in utilities, roads, and transit – it will pay dividends for generations to come.”
 
The proposed legislation would  increase the use of bond financing by raising he percentage of annual Conservation Futures Tax (CFT) revenues that could pay for new bonds, pulling forward nearly $148 million over the next two to four years to protect open and green space, and at no increased cost to taxpayers. The action would allow King County to access more of its revenue sooner so it can make investments before property is lost to development or the land becomes too expensive.

The announcement came as welcome news for Save Weyerhaeuser Campus, a grassroots organization dedicated to preserving, protecting and maintaining the unique character of the historic Weyerhaeuser campus.

"The Land Conservation Initiative is an important piece in our efforts to preserve the forests, meadows, trails, lakeshore and watershed of the historic Weyerhaeuser campus, a keystone open space for residents in our growing urban area," said Lori Sechrist, president of Save Weyerhaeuser Campus. 

The proposed ordinance would also remove the financial match requirements for acquiring new open space in communities where investments have been lacking, and which have missed out on the health, quality of life, economic and environmental benefits associated with nearby green spaces. 

The Executive also announced establishment of the Open Space Equity Cabinet, composed of community leaders and residents, to work with the county, cities, communities, and the CFT citizen oversight committee to help guide investments that eliminate open space inequities. 

Along with preserving vital urban green space in places like the Weyerhaeuser Campus and addressing the lack of open and green space investment in communities with the greatest need, the Land Conservation Initiative vision includes expanding and linking regional trails for region-wide mobility and recreation, saving farmlands, forests and river corridors across the county important to local economies, habitat, and enjoying the outdoors.

For more than 35 years government and non-profit groups across King County have used the CFT to protect more than 100,000 acres of land, forests, shorelines, greenways and trails. Funding has supported such diverse projects as Seattle's Duwamish Head Greenbelt, development rights in the Snoqualmie Forest and Puget Sound shoreline in Burien. 

From the tax of just a few cents per $1,000 of assessed property value levied on property owners, lands have been purchased for new parks, salmon habitat restoration projects and other permanently protected open space. 

Surveys of current development patterns show important gaps in conservation of vital lands. For example, less than one-third of land in Agricultural Production Districts is permanently protected from development, and wooded acreage along shorelines and river corridors remains vulnerable to development in many areas of the county. 

Two years ago, in the face of a rapidly growing region, King County convened a wide range of experts to create a long-term strategy that would protect the most critical remaining farms, forests, wildlife habitats from development, and will make neighborhoods more livable by connecting regional trails and creating more urban parks and green spaces.

The Land Conservation Initiative Advisory Group released its final report in January and affirmed an urgent need to finish the work of protecting the landscape by conserving roughly 65,000 acres of vital and at-risk lands within 30 years. 

The report estimates the additional funding needed to protect these lands to be $1.9 billion when accounting for existing funding sources and 30 years of inflation and real estate appreciation. It concluded that accelerating the pace of land conservation to a single generation from a current trajectory of 75 years would save $15 billion and help ensure these important conservation lands are not lost to development.

Executive Constantine said the legislation and the Open Space Equity Cabinet are the first in a series of steps beginning in 2018 to maximize the resources King County has and signal its commitment to pursuing the LCI vision. 

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Land Conservation Initiative website 
Advisory Group Final Report
Save the Weyerhaeuser Campus (external website)