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Appeal puts county and Freeland cityhood supporters on hold

Planning Director Jeff Tate -
Planning Director Jeff Tate
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An appeal of the growth plan for Freeland has put Island County officials in a holding pattern.

County planners had hoped to begin work on development regulations for Freeland’s “non municipal urban growth area,” but that work is now on hold, county officials said last week.

Mitch Streicher filed a challenge to the growth plan — which was adopted in December — with a state growth management hearings board late last month.

Streicher, a Freeland resident, submitted an appeal of the plan that covered

14 issues. His big issue, however, is protecting Freeland Hill from development.

“Mitch made it clear to the board when we adopted the plan that he was not happy and that he was seriously considering an appeal,” said Island County Commissioner Phil Bakke.

“It appears he is continuing objections to the inclusion of Freeland Hill into it (the plan),” Bakke said, who added that he was not willing to consider removing Freeland Hill from the non-municipal urban growth area.

The county will carefully review the appeal, Bakke said.

“Since an appeal was filed, Jeff (Tate) and the board of Island County commissioners will need to revisit that implementation plan and the policies contained within that policy plan,” he said.

Bakke said that may mean delaying work on the new development regulations that were made necessary by adoption of the growth plan.

“We need to make a conscious decision whether we’re going to go ahead and pursue the implementing regs in spite of the appeal or if we’re going to hold off for some period of time and see what happens,” Bakke said.

Bakke questioned whether it was wise to spend staff time working on a document that had the potential of getting kicked back to the county for more work.

Island County Planning Director Jeff Tate has adopted a wait-and-see approach as well.

“We’re not doing anything about it now. We’re on pause,” Tate said.

“We’re not responding to the appeal, yet nor are we moving forward with the other implementation items that were in the findings,” he said.

Tate also wants to know how much time his department should spend on the follow-on work.

“Should we put a lot of time into it? Should we not put any time into it or should we move at a slower pace,” he asked. “I suspect the board is going to have differing reactions.”

“I am fully prepared to hear the board say we need to pause and not do anything. I’m also fully prepared to hear the board say we need to move forward on this at the same rate,” Tate said.

In either case, Tate is confident that the hearings board will agree with the county and that Freeland Hill should be included in Freeland’s growth area.

“I think we’re going to prevail on the growth board hearing. I feel very good about it. We would not have advanced a product that was really vulnerable,” he said.

Bakke said there may be a solution to the sticky issue of Freeland Hill. With grant assistance and community support, Bakke would like to see the area turned into a park, even perhaps putting a community telescope up there, he said.

“I’m very interested as a South End commissioner in trying to rally support from the county and its partners in the community to seriously look at acquiring that property for parks,” he said.

“I think it would be a wicked cool park. Kids from the schools could go and use the telescope. I am sure going to try for it,” he said.

“That is a very viable option,” Tate added. “It’s one that should be considered.”

Tate also said Freeland Hill itself extends beyond the boundaries in Freeland’s growth plan. Land within the urban growth area is eventually expected to become densely developed as urban infrastructure is improved.

“The properties that were included in the urban growth area don’t represent much of Freeland Hill. Freeland Hill is much bigger than those properties and most of it, perhaps 80 percent of it, is outside of the urban growth area,” Tate said. “Considering an acquisition of Freeland Hill as a park area, I like the idea, but I am not sure how much it offsets this issue.”

Supporters of the push to make Freeland an incorporated city are waiting for the results of the hearing as well.

“It’s moving forward on a track that we don’t have any control of,” said Meg Wingard, the chairwoman for the Freeland City Committee.

“My sense is that it will slowly work itself out through the process. At this point, we don’t know what the results will be,” she said.

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