Head West, Turn Right

The Joint Blog of the Conservative Northwest Blogging Alliance: Red State Points of View from a Blue State Point on the Compass.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Developers and Enviros get cozy

Yesterday, to much media fanfare (here and here), the Cascade Land Conservancy announced its 100 year plan for preserving forests and farmlands in Washington. Strangely, as of this writing, the CLC’s website is silent regarding the plan.

The CLC talks an awful lot about how cooperative and collaborative it is. Sadly, on its Board of Directors and Advisors, something is missing. Not one person is listed as farmer, or rancher, or forest owner, or citizen. Their list of names fall into fairly specific groups. There are the environmental interests (Washington Conservation Voters, Open Space Advocates), developers (Quadrant, Graysmith Landscape Architects) and government (Washington State Department of Transportation, US Forest Service). Organizations like this will only make it harder for regular citizen land owners to choose how to use their land.

It seems that environmentalists have realized that they can’t stop development, so they might as well get in on the game. If you’ve tried to build a home on your own property in the last ten years, you know how time consuming and expensive it is to get approval to start construction. Zoning, environmental, and building regulations can push projects out years. Yet companies like Quadrant are able to start new developments all the time. Large developers and government regulators have been cozy for a long time.

We all know that organizations like the Sierra Club spend most of their money on staff and recruiting, rather than saving the world. They also spend a good amount on lobbying efforts, but don’t often actually go get their hands dirty.

Organizations like the Cascade Land Conservancy have double benefit for these groups. First, they have the ability to stand up and say they’re actually contributing to saving something. Secondly, and more disturbingly, the arrangement gives environmental groups easy access to cash.

For instance, the CLC bought 100 acres adjacent to Northwest Trek. The land was then acquired by NW Trek from the CLC in 2005. The $1.4 million purchase was funded in part by a grant of $850,000 from the Pierce County Conservation Futures. The PCCF is funded by a 6.25 cents per $1000 property tax. Based on sale records, the CLC bought the property for $1,125,000. Thanks to public funding, they made a 24% profit without doing a thing to the property.

More interesting is the deal the CLC was able to secure for the Treemont property purchased from Port Blakely Tree Farms in 2003. CLC purchased the 260 acre property for $8.8 million to prevent it from being developed with up to 194 homes. Port Blakely, had it chosen to develop the property, would have been a direct competitor in multiple industries with Weyerhauser, Quadrant’s parent company.

CLC was able to secure an agreement with King County that looks pretty sweet. King County has the ability to purchase a conservation easement on the property. In addition, the CLC is allowed to develop 100 acres for a “conservation-oriented” community. Lots range from 2.5 to 3 acres. Similar lots with homes adjacent to the new development are priced above $1 million. This is another wonderful windfall for the CLC.

Quadrant has made out pretty good from the deal as well. They were able to prevent Port Blakely from entering the housing market in their own back yard. And there have been other benefits.

Quadrant initially began their development of Snoqualmie Ridge sixteen years ago. They were opposed by residents and local governments in the Snoqualmie area. As the above story points out, a deal “brokered” by the CLC resulted in much quicker approval of Quadrant’s SR Phase II plans and allowed additional homes to be built in their first phase. The article fails to mention, however, that a Quadrant representative sits on the Board of Directors of the CLC. So while King County and ‘conservationists’ get their protected lands, Quadrant gets a speedy approval to build more houses without having to worry about more resident protests.

The CLC seems to be a model for the future. Government has long been in bed with large developers like Quadrant. Government has also had a cozy relationship with environmental groups. Until now, developers and environmentalists haven’t gotten along very well. The CLC has found a way to make these deals profitable for all three. And in the end, it will be even harder for us common folk to do with our land as we please.

Crossposted at Ideals and Impossibilities