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Deed protection bill, with eye cast on Snohomish, on Governor’s desk

Update: Gov. Jay Inslee passed the bill Tuesday, April 25


SNOHOMISH — A bill sponsored by Rep. Mark Harmsworth could soon be passed by Gov. Jay Inslee that would protect restrictive land covenants with a public process before local governments can take action.
Both the House and Senate have passed the bill, HB 1959, and it was delivered to the governor on April 18.
The bill’s brief summary describes requiring “any city, town, code city, county or municipal corporation to provide notice and hold a hearing prior to removing, vacating, or extinguishing a restrictive covenant from land that it owns.”
When Harmsworth, a Mill Creek Republican who represents the 44th District, gave his testimony for the bill on the House floor, he said the issue came to his attention because of how city officials in a city in his district
removed a deed restriction that had been gifted to the city several years ago without public notice and when the public found out about it, was “understandably upset.” 
What Harmsworth was referring to was Snohomish’s 2015 cell-tower debacle: The city removed a 93-year-old deed restriction, “for playground purposes only,” with a quit claim deed on the old Averill Field land in 2015 for land use change for Verizon to propose a cell tower be constructed next to the city-owned Boys & Girls Club land parcel, creating city revenue with the lease money. The public found out because of Verizon’s land use application, which the company later withdrew after public outcry and heated debates at its July 2015 land use application hearing. 
“(This bill) gets the public involved in that process to express their opinions,” Harmsworth said in his testimony Feb. 14 to the House Local Government Committee. “Specifically, it deals with municipal-owned properties. Hopefully this gives us a little more transparency with what’s going on in local governments.”
The bill, if signed into law by Inslee, would go into effect 90 days after the current legislative session ends. It would add new sections to RCW.35.21, RCW.35A.21 and RCW.36.01. It would also mean that local governments will have to have a public process to get citizen input on actions regarding land with deed restrictions. 
In HB 1959’s text, it describes the bill as possibly being “known and cited as the land covenant preservation and transparency act.”
Transparency has been a hot-topic word in Snohomish for well over a year. Local supporters contacted Harmsworth with their concerns about government transparency and quit title deed removals from historic land by the city. 
When the Tribune spoke with the city about the deed restriction removal on the old Averill Field land in early 2016, then-city planning director Owen Dennison confirmed the city did so without a public process. Dennison was following direction from the city manager and city attorney, he said.

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