King County has five Agricultural Production Districts – or APDs. One of those, the Sammamish River Valley APD, is at the heart of recent battles .
Looking out across the Sammamish Valley today, there is open land to be sure – but only some of it fits the common perception of farmland. All of which raises the question: What exactly is an APD, and what is it looking to protect?
An APD is essentially zoned farmland – although the definition is loose enough to allow a variety of other uses, including recreational and equestrian. According to King County, more than 41,000 acres are currently part of APDs, including Sammamish Valley. About half of that land is actually suitable for farming (because of wetlands and other land conditions).
In a 2010 report, only about 11% of APD land countywide was listed as producing crops; about 47% is used for livestock and horses and the rest is listed as “other.”
In an email interview, Woodinville arborist Tom Quigley, who is active in the Sammamish Valley Alliance (which works to protect farmland), listed a variety of agricultural and horticultural businesses now in the APD. These include , considered one of the first community-supported agriculture operations in the state, the , several nursery operations, some equestrian operations, and numerous small farms, including Hmong farmers who grow flowers and produce on leased land in the valley and sell at farmers markets and farm stands.
A plot of 47 acres along NE 124th Street includes a farm stand, a plot where the executive chef of , and , where the they “entertains hundreds of children each year through the pumpkin patch and corn maze,” Quigley said.
Full Circle Farms, which the Seattle Times has called one of the largest organic-produce operations in Western Washington, began operating what it calls the Willows Farm in the river valley along NE 124th Street in 2010.
A group of property owners would like to move 17 parcels of land along 140th Place NE into Woodinville city limits, which would require the county to move the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB). Many of these properties are developed -- , , to name a few.
The King County Comprehensive Plan is currently undergoing a mandated review (). Under revisions proposed by County Executive Dow Constantine, areas in the Sammamish Valley that are unincorporated and designated in the county’s Agricultural Protected District, will remain protected and will not be annexed by the city.
The Woodinville City Council passed a resolution in favor of annexation, but not without dissent and some controversy. A recent public hearing held by the county in Woodinville was attended by a crowd of hundreds; of 50 or so who spoke, most were against moving the Urban Growth Boundary.
One of those who spoke against annexation was Erick Haakenson, who owns Jubilee Farm, which is actually located in Carnation, in one of the county’s other APDs (Snoqualmie River). In an email interview, he explained his reasons for speaking out against moving the UGB in a neighboring river valley.
“I don't want to trivialize what I believe to be one of the post powerful statements ever made regarding social justice, but that statement carries a principle that is applicable here in this way: a threat to agriculture anywhere is a threat to agriculture everywhere. If the GMA [Growth Management Act] can be set aside for the city of Woodinville, why not elsewhere too? We who farm in other King County APDs (I farm in the Snoqualmie APD) are watching and are very concerned,” Haakenson said.
In a letter read into the public comments at the recent hearing, Claire Thomas, owner of the Root Connection, said she has already seen agricultural land prices rise in the Sammamish Valley in anticipation that the county will begin to chip away at the UGB and allow rezoning of farm land. It’s a danger that Haakenson cites too.
“Woodinville is a miner's canary for other APDs,” he said by email. “If it gets permission to covert ag land into urban growth land, owners of ag land throughout the County will take note. ... The prices of ag land in our APD are rising as things are. I can't say for sure the cause. But I'm convinced that if it is decided [that] ag land can be converted [to] urban growth, all ag land will be viewed from that point on as ‘development potential.’”