Government Pet Projects – Special Interests Get Special Laws

By Cindy Alia


When government works at becoming a savior, what can go wrong? Despite years of government spending on “solutions”, the problem of the “unhoused” is still widespread in our state.  Governmental claims for ending homelessness often require throwing money at solutions without accountability for results.  A case in point is the Pierce County project to create a “Community First” tiny house village, which appears to be patterned after a communistic utopia, but which is an impractical scheme for social improvement in rural Pierce County. 

Pierce County has embarked upon a plan for homelessness that requires both LOTS of money and the creation of special laws for special interests.  The county has been urgently chasing federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to create this tiny house village in partnership with the Tacoma Rescue Mission. This pet project has apparently led to a willingness of government officials to ignore established law, or to modify that law. Doing so has resulted in an end justifies the means scenario that creates an unfair advantage for some property owners but not for others.  This convenient override of zoning rules to allow for pet projects reveals a blatant disregard for law itself, in terms of the rule of law, the intent of the law, and does injustice not just to all property owners, but to the premise of the need for law, ordinance, and zoning in and of itself.  Why create law if it can be selectively used, enforced, or ignored based on whim and the chasing of governmental funding?

In Pierce County that is exactly what was attempted, in an unincorporated zone labeled Residential Resource.  That zone was created to meet the demands of the Growth Management Act and limited what kind of housing could be developed on land in that zone.  The ordinance created also placed limits on density proscribing how many residences could exist per acre.  The zone created was limited to 1-3 single residences per acre.  There were areas set aside for environmental concerns such as wetlands, springs, creeks and what is considered an aquifer recharge area that would be unsuitable for development.  These comprehensive community plans and accompanying zoning were what property owners in that area had to live with and under.  Property owners made decisions and plans for their properties according to the laws applying to their properties.  To change the zoning for a single high density special interest in the hope of solving homelessness is extremely misguided, short sighted, and unfair.

CAPR has always had the mission to work toward a future where the regulatory cost of land ownership is minimized, and equitable and scientifically sound land use regulations do not force private landowners to pay disproportionately for public benefits.  We oppose ordinances that create zoning regulations that are not applied fairly and evenly to all within that zone.  Special zoning for pet projects should be rejected.  If regulation is created on a sound scientific basis, then it should be respected by all within the regulatory environment, and not establish a policy of rules for thee, but not for me. 

On that basis, CAPR Legal Fund is supporting Concerned Citizens of Spanaway in their efforts to overturn special interest ordinance making, and the ensuing disregard for law abiding tax paying property owners.  Concerned Citizens of Spanaway are challenging the ordinances that created the special zoning in a Growth Management Hearings Board hearing.  CAPR Legal Fund is a 501c3 corporation and can accept tax deductible donations at if you believe this is a cause worth supporting.  We believe it is important to establish an even handed and predictable zoning environment where property owners in Washington State can rely upon an individual right to own and control property within the least restrictive parameters of the law.  If you prefer to mail a check, send to CAPR 718 Griffin Ave # 7, Enumclaw, WA. 98022.

Now to describe the Pierce County problem with planning, zoning, and ordinance making. The Residential Resources area in the sub area of Parkland, Spanaway, Midland (PSM) community plan created through a comprehensive community plan was singled out in a new zoning code, and certain parcels were given a different level of zoning and status in the GMA comprehensive community plan via zoning changes created for this one set of properties.  The new zoning ordinances are considered a priority by the county executive.  That priority was acted on by the county council, and those parcels only were re-zoned to allow for a large development called a “community village.”  The ordinance making has attracted so much attention that it has led to a series of about faces in first creating the special zoning, then repealing the special zoning, having the repeal of the special zoning vetoed by county Executive Bruce Dammeier, and then having the county council override the veto.  This has led to a confusing set of ordinance and zoning debacles that leave many to wonder how they themselves are currently zoned and what they may or may not be allowed to do with their properties.

This is the kind of crisis that can be expected when special zoning is created for special interests.  The land contemplated for development might still be developed for this previously out of zone project due to a loophole in the repealing ordinance that leaves a two-week window in which a project could be considered vested.  As such, the now temporary zoning appears to have vested at least the first phase of the Community First village.

We at CAPR hope the Growth Management Hearings Board will establish in their decision on this matter a bright line for all counties when determining zoning changes within sub area comprehensive plans.   

August 30, 2023