Future Theft

Posted on Freedom Advocates on September 10th 2004 

KING COUNTY, Wash. — Are gardens and ecosystems mutually exlcusive?
King County’s 65-10 rule denies future generations the American
gardening tradition.

Full text:

Every American town has one — sometimes more than one. They can be young, impulsive and creative, or older, practiced masters. Most towns encourage them. “They” are the local artisans and craftsmen that give your town interest and bring a beauty to everyday things that is shared by all. The color and character of a town is enhanced by its artists, and they are often encouraged by townspeople and patrons.

But America is changing. In the town of America’s future, there may be no artists, because these artists will no longer be encouraged by some people. Their ability to work will be severely limited, and sometimes completely prohibited. In America’s future, these artists will produce few works of art. They will have to scrape and save, for each canvas will be so costly that it may take years and years for an artist to save enough for a purchase. Once the artist has the canvas, the inspiration to create will have to take a back seat, until the proper permissions are granted. The artist will have to consult with a government agency, who will want to inspect the canvas and will require a detailed plan from the artist about how he will use the canvas.

If we follow an artist through inspiration to creation we will see how America can change.

Let’s take a simple idea; our artist has been inspired to create a work that draws from his family history and his country of origin. Perhaps he was enchanted by his grandparent’s stories from their ancestral home. He hopes to capture on his canvas some of the spirit of that place. Imagine the elation of the artist, when the government official approves his idea and he can begin work!

Happily, our creative friend begins selection of the color palette. His budget is very small now, because the canvas was so expensive, and the work with the government agent, and the other consultants required to get permission to use the canvas further drained his finances. But he is determined and he manages to purchase his materials and settles in to work.

But there is another problem. The government agent has contacted the artist. It seems that while the artist was preparing his canvas and selecting his color palette, a council meeting was held. In that meeting, the town officials were pressured by a group to change their permission process for granting artists the right to use their canvas. Now, our artist is told, it is only possible to use a portion of the canvas, he may not use the whole canvas for his work. In fact, he must leave 65 % of his canvas untouched. Oh dear! What if the artist has already begun work? Well, the government official will reply, then he must spare no expense to restore the canvas he has harmed to its original condition, and only work in the area he is allowed.

But that isn’t the end to the problems. Because the government official follows through with another constraint. “You can’t use the colors you have chosen”, the government agent will tell the artist. “You must only use colors from the color palette that we provide you”. Our artist’s elation has turned to despair. The government official will allow only a few colors, all of the same hue. The inspiration for the canvas, which was to capture the vibrant colors from the artist’s ancestral country cannot be followed. The artist has no choice but to create a work that looks just like his neighbor’s work, because no matter what the size of their canvas, they can only paint on a small portion, and no matter what the inspiration for the art, they must all select from the same color palette. Our artist, who may want to create a work based on his cultural background, his ethnicity or out of curiosity or experimentation, is defeated. The individual expression of his talent is unacceptable in the new American town.

In the meantime, you don’t worry, because this is just a story and you fully support the arts. You are comfortable that the experience of the town and the artist in my story will not be played out in your town.

If you live in King County, Washington, you are wrong. In fact, you are very wrong. Because elected officials in King County Washington have recently passed an ordinance that limits individuals from taking inspiration from their cultural heritage, and exercising their imagination to create a garden for their homes and properties. You see, these artists are only allowed to use 65% of their canvas (their property), and may only select plants from a color palette of native plants chosen for them by the Department of Natural Resources and Parks.

This shackling of creative inspiration is a significant departure from the history and culture of the Seattle area. King County, and the counties neighboring it, are home to a variety of historic gardens. The Kubota garden, in Seattle, is built on 20 acres and reflects a rich Japanese tradition. In it are planted a wealth of Asian and other non-native ornamental plants. Fujitaro Kubota started the garden by purchasing a logged off swamp, and later expanded the garden into adjacent property. In the construction of the garden a natural stream was enclosed to create a pool. Over 400 tons of rock was brought to the property to create a mountainside, with pools, waterfalls and winding pathways. It is a beautiful meditative garden.

What would happen if Fujitaro Kubota tried to create this garden today? Would the government agents allow it without applications of permits, land management plans, setbacks for aquatic areas and slope buffers to protect so-called critical areas? How do you suppose his garden would look after conforming to these rules and ordinances? Do you think he would have created such a striking work of art in his landscape by following those rules? Do you think he would have built the gardens at all?

Lakewold, in Lakewood, WA, is a fine estate with ten acres of elegant gardens. The garden was created with a brick walk –an impervious surface—which is now limited by the King County Critical Areas Ordinance to be 10% or less of the total size of the parcel. The garden also displays rare alpine plants and exotic rhododendrons which would be prohibited on the 65% of the property set aside by the county under the Critical Areas Ordinance land management rules. A traditional European knot garden, and rose garden would also be confined to the designated usable 25% of the property which would include the house and any other buildings if built on a rural King County parcel. In other words, an estate like Lakewold, with its extensive garden rooms extending to every corner of the parcel, could not be built today with the rules the county is imposing on rural King County gardeners and property owners.

Past residents of Washington State have appreciated the work that the artists who are gardeners do. They admired these gardens for their beauty, creativity and for the displays of rare and exotic plants. They have funded the preservation of these gardens for all to enjoy. But now, rather than promoting the free creative expression that a garden can provide, some people in King County want to stop it.

If Fujitaro Kubota was limited the way rural King County residents are today, he would have only been allowed to put gardens on roughly 5 of the 20 acres he had purchased, and would have had to purchase additional parcels in order to create a 20 acre sized garden. So the rules that some people are imposing on King County are worse than merely stifling the creative freedom of a property owner to plant a garden. They are also putting land ownership out of the reach of many people because when a buyer must spend money on regulatory compliance, and is limited in the use of the property because 65% of it must be left wild, and when the buyer might be required to purchase multiple lots in order to get enough buildable land, in the view of the county land management department, for a house, the cost of attaining the American dream becomes astronomical.

What do you suppose will happen to the special character of the county when gardeners can no longer practice their art freely? No doubt any existing gardens, if they survive, will become relics, consumed by foundations or government agencies that will always beg for money to keep them going. They will also be a place where people, citizens of a “free” country can only look and envy the freedom past residents of King County had when they pursued their American dream.

King County officials will try to tell you “we have to save the land for future generations”. But what will King County be giving future generations? Certainly not the stunning Asian-themed Kubota gardens or the quiet elegance of Lakewold. And if the elected officials lock up lands owned by common citizens for future generations, doesn’t that leave the current generation of King County residents bereft of a future for themselves?

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