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Rocky road for Freeland’s new plan

The latest look at Freeland’s future drew some familiar echoes from Freeland’s past.

About 50 people showed up at Trinity Lutheran Church on Tuesday night as county planners unveiled their most recent update of the Freeland Subarea Plan.

But instead of growth, most of those in attendance wanted to talk about sewers, pollution and planning work already done.

“We finally get a plan, and now you’re going to play with it?” said Freeland resident and businessman Allen Peyser. “Stick with the plan you’ve got and get on with it.”

As for a new sewer system, Freeland Realtor Leanne Finlay said: “Nothing is going to help it if it’s not affordable for everyone. That’s rebellion.”

The 2007 subarea plan, required by the state when it designated Freeland a “Non-Municipal Urban Growth Area,” is designed to guide the character of the South End’s largest commercial center as its population increases by more than

1,000 to an anticipated 4,000 residents by 2020.

The meeting was the first of three scheduled by planners to gather community comment before they take their latest proposal to the Island County Planning Commission in November. Two additional community meetings are scheduled for next month.

County planners Anthony Boscolo and Troy Davis unveiled the draft plan Tuesday. They reminded those attending that the state requires continued refinements, and that it's important that the community weigh in on all revisions.

"The state pushed us into this," Boscolo said. "There's a lot of history."

"Nothing at this point is permanent," he added. "Our goal is to go before the county commissioners. We're not there yet."

The latest "form-based" plan envisions Freeland as a pedestrian-friendly little town nestled on the shores of Holmes Harbor.

Its commercial core would continue to be businesses along Main Street, anchored by Payless Foods, Linds pharmacy and Ace Hardware.

But a new, picturesque area along Myrtle Avenue to the west would become the new center of a "human-friendly" village.

There would be two- and three-story commercial buildings next to the street, their upper levels containing apartments and homes. Development along the two-lane avenue would be compact, including public plazas and greens and civic and institutional buildings that would help make the area the new center of the community.

In conventional zoning, "the trend has been for civic spaces becoming leftover land where developers can't develop," Davis said, "and nobody uses it."

Parking along Myrtle Avenue would be pushed to the sides and rear of homes and buildings through the use of alleys, and residents and visitors would be encouraged to share parking spaces and to walk to their destinations.

Davis said studies have shown that people will walk up to a half mile before hopping in their cars, so planning was done to take that into consideration.

He said form-based planning arose in the 1980s in Florida, and has been spreading across the country since.

Holistic approach

Unlike conventional zoning, which is based almost entirely on use, form-based planning is a holistic philosophy of development in which the height, width, appearance, human scale, landscaping, parking and access all complement other nearby buildings and the land itself.

"Form has a more lasting effect on a community," Davis said. "It can create a place that's unique, an environment human beings can thrive in."

He said Myrtle Avenue, a two-lane street anchored at one end by Chase Bank and a few other businesses, and lined with single-family homes and overgrown, undeveloped lots to the north, "has tremendous potential for a main-street feel."

The planners emphasized that Freeland's growth will happen gradually, and not until the economy improves. But it's vital to have a plan in place when growth does begin, Boscolo said.

"A lot of time has been spent on what the community doesn't want to see," Davis said. "This is a new approach."

Sewers key

But everyone agreed that little growth will occur until a sewer system is in place.

Proponents of sewers for Freeland have pushed the project for years. The latest price tag for such a system has been estimated at nearly $34 million, and supporters continue to search for grants and matching funds while meeting with community members to discuss refinements.

Some at Tuesday's meeting, especially those who live along Myrtle Avenue, were concerned about what a designation of more density would do to their future sewer assessments.

"It's going to be forcing people to move," predicted Freeland property owner Richard Korp, who said a damaging "disconnect" continues to exist between sewer planning and growth planning.

"It might cost me a million dollars to hook up," said another property owner, Kim Kelzer. "Basically, we're all going to have to sell out to developers."

Other concerns were also raised.

Christine Goodwin of Freeland, president of the Friends of Holmes Harbor, said an increased population along Myrtle Avenue could create even more pollution problems for the beleaguered bay.

"It's already called the dirtiest beach in the state of Washington," Goodwin said. "What's another 1,000 people going to do?"

She urged a careful analysis of soil conditions in the area before development is allowed to proceed.

Enough planning

Mitchell Streicher, who has participated in Freeland planning for years, questioned the need for further revisions.

"Why are you getting more input now, after we've done all that work?" he said, warning that too much tampering could lead to litigation.

Switching gears, Streicher said that, unlike city neighborhoods, "a walkable community isn't suitable for small towns. I've lived in small towns, and none of them are walkable."

But not everyone was negative about the form-based proposal.

"I think you've come up with a stroke of genius," Dean Enell, who has spent 10 years helping to shape the South End's future, told the planners.

"If this is an alternative, I think it will flourish and do quite well," he said.

Upcoming community meetings on the latest Freeland plan will be from 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 5 and from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 26, both at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland.

A copy of the plan can be found on the county’s Web site at www.islandcounty.net/planning, or in hard-copy form at the county building in Coupeville.

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