Futurewise's state director and Whatcom chapter director told us last week they intended to be less about litigation and more about cooperation in its dealings with local governments. The group that has made a mission out of making sure counties are complying with the state Growth Management Act has been challenging the county's rural-development rules since 2005.
State Director Hilary Franz said in an interview on Thursday, March 20, that she would like to put an end to three separate cases Futurewise has brought against the county. She wouldn't say much about the progress made in any settlement with the county, except to say Futurewise was in "early conversations" with county officials.
Those conversations took a major step forward today, Tuesday, March 25, when Futurewise sent a letter to county attorneys with a settlement proposal. The county council discussed the letter briefly in a committee meeting this morning.
Council member Ken Mann said he had read the letter.
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"I think it's very reasonable to think we can come to a settlement or agreement with these folks," Mann said.
In light of what might be real progress toward settling the dispute, some council members contemplated not approving another $40,000 for outside attorneys to defend the county against Futurewise and others on the handful of disputes now before a state court and the Growth Management Hearings Board.
The council finance committee this morning ended up approving the request, within a package of several other budget changes, with a 2-0 vote. Sam Crawford and Rud Browne voted to recommend the additional expenditure for attorneys, which would bring the total cost to $140,000. Barry Buchanan said he wanted to hold off on considering the expense to gather more information -- which I took to mean read Futurewise's letter and consult with county attorneys. Buchanan abstained on the full budget package.
The full council will take up the $40,000 attorney expense again tonight, after discussing Futurewise's offer in a private meeting at 6 p.m.
David Stalheim, one of the other petitioners against the county in two of these three cases, said the settlement proposal includes his group: himself, Laura Leigh Brakke, Eric Hirst and Wendy Harris.