Latest Freeland plan update no longer takes a village

It’s all yours, Langley.

An ambitious vision for a second “Village by the Sea” on the South End, this one in Freeland, appears destined for the shredder, by popular demand.

Island County planners are wrapping up their latest update of a long-range plan for the South End’s commercial center, and a proposed idyllic village isn’t included.

“We heard a lot of public outcry about the concept, so we removed it,” county long-range planner Anthony Boscolo said Thursday. “We’ve brought it back into alignment with the 2007 plan.”

Boscolo said that when planners undertook the latest update of the Freeland Subarea Plan (periodic updates are required by the state), they decided to dream a little.

During public meetings held this past summer and fall, county planners Boscolo and Troy Davis asked residents to envision a small cluster of stores, residences and open spaces nestled along Myrtle Street west of the current commercial center.

They said the small-town-like area could 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.

The Freeland village concept was an example of form-based planning that arose in the 1980s in Florida, and has been spreading across the country since, planners told residents who attended the community meetings.

“We were exploring clean-slate concepts for the area,” Boscolo said. “But the folks in Freeland didn’t like it.”

“We were hoping for a little more dialogue,” he added. “Ultimately, some valid concerns were expressed. Hearing their concerns was one of the tipping points for us to go back toward the original plan.”

The subarea plan, required by the state when it designated Freeland a Non-Municipal Urban Growth Area in 2007, is designed to guide the character of the South End’s largest commercial center as its population increases by more than a 1,000 to an anticipated 4,000 residents by 2020.

Boscolo said the updated plan, about a half-inch thick, now covers land use, natural lands, civic and open space, capital facilities, utilities, transportation, economic development and housing.

He said the updated plan is designed to set goals, policies and principles that will guide the creation of development regulations specifically geared toward Freeland.

“Development regulations will help to further define what the area will look like on the ground,” Boscolo said. “But the plan will still allow developers to be creative. We’re looking at a bigger vision.”

The updated plan sees Freeland in 2020 as “a comfortable waterfront community that is known for its unique character and expansive views of the surrounding environment.”

It envisions a sprinkling of parks and open spaces, a variety of attractive affordable housing, plenty of walking spaces, appropriate landscaping, protection for delicate natural areas and minimal vehicle traffic.

Boscolo acknowledged that any major renovation of Freeland, and any possibility of incorporation, hinges on the installation of sewers.

For years, the Freeland Water and Sewer District and other proponents have been scrambling for state and federal grant money to fund the proposed system, estimated to cost nearly $34 million.

Proponents hope to hear next month the results of their latest grant quest.

A sewer system also hinges on the formation of a local improvement district to fund the project, and residents have cringed at some of the early assessment estimates.

Boscolo said planners and sewer proponents have remained in close contact.

“Sewers are a key component, and sewers and planning go hand-in-hand,” he said. “One doesn’t make progress without the other.”

The updated plan is currently in the hands of the county Planning Commission, which has been holding public hearings on the document.

The next hearing will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 3, at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland.

Boscolo said the planning commission appears close to passing the document to county commissioners, which he hopes will happen no later than March.

He said planners have been working on a long-range vision for Freeland for more than 10 years.

“It’s been a really long process,” Boscolo said. “We want the people in Freeland not to lose hope, and to continue to participate.”

A copy of the updated Freeland Subarea Plan is available on the county’s website, and in hard-copy format from the planning department in the Island County Annex building in Coupeville and the Freeland Library.

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