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Commissioner puts brakes on new regulations for Freeland

McDowell says vote for cityhood should come first

COUPEVILLE — Island County Commissioner Mac McDowell said this week the county shouldn’t be spending its time, resources and money on crafting new development rules while the future for Freeland is so uncertain.

Commissioners officially designated Freeland as an urban growth area in December and approved a growth plan for the South End’s commercial hub. But follow-on work — which includes creating development regulations and updating the county’s overall growth plan so it fits with the plan created for Freeland — is expected to take up to two years, according to a draft outline released by the county this week.

McDowell said he wanted to get a sense of whether residents would vote to approve cityhood for Freeland before the county spends a lot of time and money on development regulations. It’s a key consideration because the county could spend almost two years on updating the county growth plan and writing new development rules — and marshaling both pieces of work through the planning commission and multiple public hearings — only to face the potential of having the new regulations tossed out by a newly formed Freeland city government.

“My thought is, I want to see what the vote is,” McDowell said Wednesday.

“If the vote fails, we’ll move ahead. So why don’t we wait a time frame of four to five months and jump on that, knowing what the vote is?”

Commissioner Phil Bakke said the push to Freeland incorporation could take just as long as the county’s efforts to wrap up Freeland-related work.

“It is a volunteer effort. It might be two years,” Bakke said. “But we don’t have control of it.”

“I think you’ll find a few people from Freeland who either today, don’t have an opinion about incorporation, or are in favor of incorporation and want to see the county move forward on this,” Bakke added.

Commissioners met this week to talk about draft “findings of fact” that will be adopted to support their December vote to designate Freeland as a non-municipal urban growth area. The designation clears the way for more intense and dense development in Freeland once infrastructure such as a new sewage treatment system is built.

According to the draft findings of fact, county officials will not bless the changes to Freeland’s growth plan that have been pressed by a vocal crowd of volunteer planners in Freeland.

Some in Freeland have repeatedly asked for tough language in the growth plan, restrictive regulations for development on Freeland Hill and the formation of a design review board that would weigh in on proposed development projects.

In its draft findings, the board rejects all three items. Commissioners appear poised to shoot down the suggestion that developers who build projects in Freeland should face extra scrutiny that builders in other parts of the county don’t.

“While design standards are a crucial element to fulfilling the vision of the Freeland Sub Area Plan, the board finds that applicants who submit land-use applications should not be subjected to overburdensome levels of project review. The board does not support design review boards and citizen advisory committees that result in additional levels of review that lengthen the permit review process,” the draft findings state.

Design review has been a main factor in Freeland’s march to cityhood. Supporters of incorporation have repeatedly complained that development projects approved years ago don’t fit with the character of Freeland.

Commissioners approved the Freeland Sub Area Plan on Dec. 10. Creating new development rules that fit with the plan is the next step, but county planners said this week it may take until September before draft regulations are ready.

Public hearings on the draft rules would be held in September and October.

Updating the county’s growth plan so it does not conflict with the Freeland Sub Area Plan is expected to take until September 2009.

The draft findings of fact include general information about the Freeland Sub Area Plan, an implementation strategy, a work schedule for the development regulations and adjustments to planning committee’s recommendations to the plan itself.

The findings will be available for review on Monday, Feb. 11 on the county’s Web site at http://www.islandcounty.net/planning/freeland/docs.htm.

McDowell said he doubted people in Freeland would want to keep the county’s building rules for the town if residents vote to make it a new city.

“I can understand they would use the comprehensive plan and some of the other plans. But I can’t imagine they would use the development regulations,” McDowell said.

“I don’t want to spend money for big involvement and then have them use their own vision for the regulations,” he said.

Jeff Tate, chief of planning for Island County, said Freeland officials would decide how Freeland would develop if the incorporation effort is successful.

“They do have the ability, obviously, if they incorporate to do whatever they want in terms of either accepting and using the Freeland plan and any follow-on piece — or shelving it and creating one of their own,” Tate said.

“But, you’re right,” Tate added. “It sort of creates this limbo.”

Commissioners hope to meet with members of the Freeland City Committee on Feb. 11, before they adopt the findings of fact to support their vote on Freeland’s urban designation.

Spencer Webster can be reached at 221-5300 or swebster@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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