As long threatened, rural King County residents and a private-property-rights law firm sued the county yesterday over the Critical Areas...

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As long threatened, rural King County residents and a private-property-rights law firm sued the county yesterday over the Critical Areas Ordinance rules restricting use and development of rural land.

The Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) filed the lawsuit in Snohomish County Superior Court against King County Executive Ron Sims, the Metropolitan King County Council and the county. The nonprofit firm is representing individual landowners and the Citizens’ Alliance for Property Rights, a coalition of rural residents opposed to the county’s new land-use regulations.

The regulations were approved last fall and are some of the strictest in the United States.

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The lawsuit focuses on development limits: Under the new rules, owners of rural property are required to leave 50 to 65 percent of their land in native vegetation.

“King County government is basically telling rural landowners to forfeit two-thirds of their private property,” said Russ Brooks, managing attorney for PLF’s Northwest Center. “It’s not fair to make a small group of rural property owners bear the brunt of the public’s environmental burden.”

Sims and the Democratic County Council members said the rules are necessary to protect streams, wetlands and groundwater that could be damaged by development. “We haven’t seen the lawsuit yet, but we expected it,” said Carolyn Duncan, communications director for Sims’ office.

“With the new rules, farming and forestry is actually easier than before. We’ve enacted something that was necessary to protect water quality and people’s property from erosion and flooding, and we stand by the ordinances.”

The Critical Areas Ordinances have provoked anger in the county’s rural regions, sparking protests and legal disputes.

In a separate action, the Citizens’ Alliance for Property Rights is trying to challenge the rules through three referendums that would allow voters in unincorporated King County to approve or reject the laws. A judge ruled against the referendums going forward, however, and the organization has appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704 or nsinger@seattletimes.com