8. Conserving environmentally sensitive lands and rural resource lands
Outlook: Sunny, future looks bright
The share of new growth locating in rural Thurston County is decreasing, although still above targets for 2035. The density of new development in rural Thurston County is decreasing.
Preserving rural areas will result in multiple outcomes, including reducing development pressure on rural lands, making it easier to maintain viable local food, farm, and forest economies, and protecting the environment.
What are we measuring?
Percent of new homes in rural unincorporated Thurston County.
Average density of new development in rural unincorporated Thurston County.
Several factors have likely led to a decrease in the share of new residential growth locating in rural areas compared to urban areas. Thurston County changed rural zoning and development regulations in the late 2000s. The new regulations lowered the density of housing allowed, which reduced the overall capacity for rural growth. Also, changes made to the cluster development ordinance, including placing size restrictions on cluster developments and removing density bonuses, led to fewer new pockets of dense housing development in rural areas. At the same time, the demand for new homes in urban areas — particularly in planned residential communities — increased. As the housing market recovers from the recession, the region has experienced a building boom of multifamily housing, almost all locating in the cities.
There is still a large inventory of small, older lots available for development in rural Thurston County, and opportunities for further subdivision to 5 acre lots.
The county is undertaking several planning processes and initiatives with the goals of protecting forest lands, farm lands, prairie lands, and environmentally sensitive lands from conversion to residential lands. These steps include examining incentives, coordinating stakeholders in a voluntary stewardship process, enhancing purchase and transfer of development rights programs, reexamining rural zoning with goals of watershed and prairie protection, and seeking additional sources of funding to conserve sensitive lands.