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Questions and answers about rural stewardship planning

Questions and answers about rural stewardship planning

Rural Stewardship Planning is a new program that provides landowners flexibility with clearing and buffers in exchange for long-term protection of natural resources in other ways.

Why was the Rural Stewardship Program created?

Informed landowners are the best stewards of their land. Standard regulations do not always provide the best or most sensible protection for natural resources. With a Rural Stewardship Plan, standard aquatic, wetland and wildlife protection buffers and clearing limits can be modified in most cases in exchange for a long-term commitment to activities that protect and enhance natural resources. It is expected that the Rural Stewardship Planning program will provide equivalent or better protection for natural resources than standard regulations.

Who can get a rural stewardship plan?

The Rural Stewardship Program only offers regulatory flexibility to properties zoned rural residential (RA). A Rural Stewardship Plan applies to a single building site (you can’t write a plan that covers multiple houses, but you can write a plan that covers multiple parcels with only one house). Rural Stewardship Planning is an optional alternative to the standard permitting process – you choose whether you want to develop a plan.

How does the program work?

The Rural Stewardship Program offers free technical assistance to landowners that wish to develop a plan for their property. The landowner writes the plan. King County Stewards provide technical assistance and guidance. After completing a Rural Stewardship Plan, you still must complete all steps of any normal permit review process. Development of a Rural Stewardship Plan is expected to be no more expensive than the standard regulatory / permitting process.

Are permits still required with a plan?

There are some activities that are allowed without a permit only IF you have an approved Rural Stewardship Plan. But for the most part – almost always – you still need a permit for any alterations or developments. A Rural Stewardship Plan won't eliminate your need to complete special studies, if required as a part of your permitting process.

How long does it take to get a plan?

A typical farm plan – written by an experienced farm planner – takes 3 months to complete. Rural Stewardship Planning is a new program with comparable planning and analytic efforts in which the landowner is responsible for writing the plan. For these reasons we expect many Rural Stewardship Plans to take at least 3 months. To create a Rural Stewardship Plan, you must actively engage in the development of your plan, understanding your land, weighing your options, committing to actions, and writing a plan. This is expected to take time, and may be unfamiliar work to some.

How much flexibility will a plan provide?

A plan must protect the resources at least as well as the standard regulations. The amount of flexibility to standard buffers depends on the condition of the watershed your property is in, the condition of the resources on your property, and the impact of proposed land use changes. You need to be flexible and creative and work with program staff to determine how you can achieve your goals AND protect the environment. Some goals may not be viable on some properties.

Will a rural stewardship plan allow more clearing?

It is unrealistic to believe that clearing limits could be increased to 50% or 75% or more of a property. Rural Stewardship Planning must protect the natural hydrology on a site and the resources affected by land use on the site. Clearing beyond the standard regulations is possible, but it is likely to be conditional. We are currently working to get better definition and guidance on this issue.

What happens if I can’t fulfill the plan or it doesn't work?

Rural Stewardship Program staff will continue to provide technical assistance throughout the life of your plan, to help resolve problems or find alternate solutions. If you developed your plan solely to gain assistance with protecting or restoring natural areas, it is entirely voluntary. If your plan provides flexibility for a land use permit, then your completion of the plan (or specific plan elements) would be a condition of the permit. If you are unable or unwilling to complete those plan elements, you would need to mitigate for any structures constructed in critical areas, and resolve the permit with King County Department of Development and Environmental Services. If you have enrolled your property in the Public Benefit Rating System (PBRS) program to gain tax credits, then you must fully implement your plan in order to get the PBRS credits for the plan.

What other options do I have besides rural stewardship planning?

Rural Stewardship Planning is only one option for flexibility in protecting critical areas. If you are primarily farming or managing livestock, a Farm Management Plan may be your best option. A Forest Stewardship Plan may be a good option if you want technical assistance to manage forest resources on your property.

For questions about these programs, please contact Pesha Klein, Environmental Scientist III, DPER Critical Areas Review.