The Snohomish County Council's refusal to block a proposed car dealership on 110 acres along Interstate 5 north of Marysville could cost it more than $9 million next year. Gov Gov. Gary Locke...

Share story

The Snohomish County Council’s refusal to block a proposed car dealership on 110 acres along Interstate 5 north of Marysville could cost it more than $9 million next year.

Gov. Gary Locke said yesterday that the state will withhold the county’s portion of the state gasoline tax starting in March because the County Council hasn’t voted to bar development of the property.

Financial sanctions “would be devastating,” said County Executive Aaron Reardon, because the gas-tax revenue is used for road improvements. Reardon said the county is counting on about $9.2 million next year in gas-tax revenue.

The governor’s office once before withheld state tax money to enforce the Growth Management Act. In 1995, Gov. Mike Lowry withheld road money from Chelan County when it wouldn’t apply stricter protections to farmland. When the county complied, Lowry refunded about $866,000.

Locke’s decision puts a price tag on one of Snohomish County’s longest-running and most controversial land-use battles. The Lane family, which owns several Chevrolet dealerships in the county, has been trying to build a car dealership on the property, known as the Island Crossing property, since 1995.

The previous Democrat-controlled County Council fought all the way to the state Court of Appeals to keep the land rural. The current Republican-controlled council is fighting to allow the land to be developed.

The land abuts the east side of Interstate 5 and is near other development in the fast-growing area.

Island Crossing property

Timeline of significant events

Snohomish County Council includes the property in an urban-growth area around Arlington. Environmental groups appeal, arguing the land is prime farmland.

Snohomish County Superior Court rules the land must be protected as farmland.

State Court of Appeals upholds the 1997 ruling.

Car dealer Dwayne Lane and his son, Tom Lane, renew efforts to rezone the land.

September-October 2003:
County Council votes to make the land urban, meaning it could be developed. Then County Executive Bob Drewel vetoes the decision. The council overrides the veto.

Nov. 5, 2003:
Gov. Gary Locke asks the state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development to appeal the County Council’s decision to the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board.

Nov. 17, 2003:
The Lanes petition to have Arlington annex the land.

April 2004:
The state Boundary Review Board for Snohomish County supports annexation.

May 5, 2004:
The growth-management hearings board rules against the County Council, returning the land to its agricultural zoning.

May 24, 2004:
County Council votes again to designate the property as urban, citing a new study financed by the Lanes.

July 2004:
Growth-management hearings board says the May decision was out of compliance with state law and recommends the governor impose financial sanctions against the county.

Locke notifies state Treasurer Mike Murphy that he is imposing financial sanctions effective March 1.

“I think our soon-to-be-former governor is taking another shot at local control,” said County Council Chairman John Koster, R-Arlington. “The governor’s off base on this.”

The council could avoid the financial sanctions by voting to bar development on the property.

Koster said the council will meet Monday to discuss it, but he said barring development would be “capitulating to the growth boards and allowing them to give the county legal advice.”

The state’s Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board ruled last summer that the property should be protected as farmland. The board agreed with anti-sprawl groups that said developing the property would cause flooding problems.

With the board’s decision, the county says the land automatically reverted to agricultural status. County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney John Moffat said he believes the council is in compliance.

But the board and governor disagree, and the board ruled in July that the council must vote to change the zoning of the land. The council hasn’t done that.

In a statement yesterday, Locke said he had hoped to work with the council and avoid sanctions. “However, the County Council has failed to address the order of the hearings board,” he said.

“It’s the fact of simply ignoring a sanction from the board and an order from the board that is not acceptable,” said Ron Shultz, environmental-policy adviser to the governor.

The County Council had appealed the board’s decision on the Island Crossing property and is awaiting an April 1 Superior Court hearing.

Councilman Dave Gossett, D-Mountlake Terrace, the only council member to vote against making the property urban, called the governor’s decision to impose sanctions “unfair.”

“I also think, however, that the manner in which the council tried to sidestep previous rulings … probably did provoke this kind of action,” he said.

Emily Heffter: 425-783-0624 or