Revised plan for Freeland moves ahead

A rarified vision of Freeland has moved another step closer to reality.

The latest update of the Freeland Subarea Plan has been unanimously endorsed by the Island County Planning Commission and passed along to county commissioners.

And planners are urging the commission to set a hearing as early as next month.

“We’re very pleased with the direction this is going,” Anthony Boscolo, Island County long-range planner, said this past week. “We feel it’s a comprehensive look at what Freeland’s going to be in the future.”

Boscolo said planners want the county commission to set a hearing date on the revised plan at its Monday, Feb. 28 meeting, and recommend that the public session be scheduled for Monday,
March 21 in Coupeville.

County commissioners can adopt, deny or modify the plan. Planning commissioners recommend adoption. Boscolo said he hopes the panel will move quickly, so that work on development regulations can begin this year.

“We’re looking forward to what the board has to say,” Boscolo said.

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

The updated plan now includes chapters that cover land use, natural lands, civic and open space, capital facilities, utilities, transportation, economic development and housing. 

Boscolo said the revised plan is expected to set goals, policies and principles that will guide the creation of development regulations specifically geared toward Freeland.

The updated plan 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 a minimum amount of traffic.

Boscolo said planners undertook the update as required by the state. The original plan was adopted after several years of work by local planning groups.

The updated version follows a form-based planning concept that arose in the 1980s in Florida, and has been spreading across the country, Boscolo said.

Unlike conventional zoning, which is based almost entirely on land 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.

However, an ambitious proposal for a village-green concept along Myrtle Avenue was dropped after sustained opposition at public meetings by property owners worried that their assessments would skyrocket.

Adoption of an updated subarea plan is a prerequisite to adoption of detailed development regulations for Freeland. And development regulations are themselves dependent on the installation of a sewer system.

“One doesn’t go forward without the other,” Boscolo said.

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

Proponents hope to hear this month the results of their latest grant application, a $3.5 million request to the state Department of Ecology to complete engineering and design work.

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.

Chet Ross, chairman of the Freeland Area Chamber of Commerce and a principle sewer booster, said he is pleased with the updated subarea plan, and predicted that sewers will eventually be installed in Freeland, a key to incorporation.

“It’s an ongoing process,” Ross said. “We just have to keep working at it.”

Lou Malzone of Freeland, director of Friends of Holmes Harbor, a group of several hundred island residents concerned about the Freeland waterfront, praised the updated subarea plan and the work of county planners.

He also praised the emphasis on density as opposed to urban sprawl, which he called “a positive step for the environment.”

“They were very responsive to the public and proactive in advancing a plan that reflects current thinking,” Malzone said. “It’s a dramatic contrast to the previous plan.”

However, Mitchell Streicher of Freeland, who has been active in Freeland planning for more than
10 years, said the original land-use portion of the plan was more than adequate, and the new revision was an expensive waste of time.

Streicher said he also has problems with density figures and transportation provisions in the updated plan.

“The planning department has done some things that shouldn’t have been done,” he said. “We worked on the plan for 10 years, and then people came from the outside and changed it.”


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