SEATTLE —A unanimous order issued on Tuesday, May 26 by the Washington State Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB) has overturned King County’s controversial Adult Beverage Ordinance challenged by Friends of Sammamish Valley (FoSV) and other petitioners.
The order, according to a May 31 press release from FoSV, cites a dozen grounds for invalidation under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) and the Growth Management Act (GMA) and faults the county repeatedly for ignoring the ordinance's potential environmental harm and impacts on infrastructure.
“We are extremely pleased that the GMHB validated what thousands of citizens, organizations, and businesses have been telling King County for more than two years,” said Executive Director of Friends of Sammamish Valley Serena Glover. “The Adult Beverage zoning ordinance would have had far-reaching, negative impacts on the environment, farming, rural character, open spaces, safety, and more in the Sammamish Valley and broadly across rural King County.”
Glover, along with the advocacy group Futurewise, led the petitioner’s appeal to the GMHB.
The wording of the board’s decision, Glover said, is notably direct.
“It observes with clear disapproval that the County, in its environmental review document, declines to even acknowledge areas of potential impact and utterly fails to identify necessary areas of environmental review,” she said. “The decision is also noteworthy because invalidation of city or county legislation is not common, but instead reserved for the most egregious cases, and because the decision was rendered early in the appeal process.”
Despite strong opposition from farmers, rural and urban residents, environmental and community groups, and local businesses, the King County Council nonetheless adopted the ordinance by a 5-4 vote. The ordinance, sponsored by Council member Kathy Lambert, was endorsed by a handful of illegally operating adult beverage businesses. After the Dec. 4, 2019 vote, Lambert said the council had taken "significant steps" to protect agricultural lands.
“Opposition to the ordinance centered on its opening up of protected farmland and rural residential areas to adult beverage businesses such as remote tasting rooms, bars, and event centers where the primary activity is retail sales. The Growth Board’s Order upheld these concerns,” Glover said. “The Board recognized that while sponsors claimed the ordinance would tighten up regulations around the winery, brewery, and distillery businesses, it would actually have the opposite effect — legitimizing a group of existing adult beverage zoning violators and opening up areas set aside for farming and rural residential uses across unincorporated King County to more of the same activities.”
This battle is far from over, however, as the county has several options it can pursue including asking the GMHB to reconsider its decision, filing a petition for review in Superior Court (following a motion for reconsideration), conduct an environmental review in which the public would have the opportunity to weigh in, or write a new ordinance that is narrow in scope amending its home occupation code.
“We will be actively involved in these next steps with the county,” Grover said. “Regardless of the path, we will demand the County immediately start enforcing code in order to deal with the nine well-documented rogue violators in the Sammamish Valley. The code clearly states that sales are limited to products produced on-site in these rural locations. The violators all truck in alcohol produced elsewhere.”