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Freeland man files challenge to Freeland’s growth plan

FREELAND — A Freeland man has filed an appeal of the Freeland Sub Area Plan with the county to protect Freeland Hill from development at higher zoning densities.

Mitch Streicher lives directly below the wooded hilly parcels of land and doesn’t want to see 60 homes shoehorned onto the property that he can see from his home.

“If I can save Freeland Hill, I have accomplished something that’s worthwhile,” he added. “I’m 80 years old. By the time Freeland Hill would be ruined — if that is how it goes — I won’t even be here.”

The appeal will go for review before the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, an appointed body that settles land-use disputes stemming from the state’s Growth Management Act.

Streicher is challenging the adoption of both the Freeland Sub Area Plan and the non-municipal urban growth area. He also said the planning commission’s findings that led to the approval of the plan are faulty, and there are also problems with a buildable lands analysis that was done in connection with the long-range growth plan for Freeland.

Streicher’s listed 14 challenges in his petition for appeal, and said the flaws he sees within the plan should invalidate it.

His energy, however, is really devoted to keeping Freeland Hill in a rural zoning by having it removed from the map that sets out the boundaries for the Freeland non-municipal growth area, or NMUGA.

Streicher said the growth area is too big for the population that’s expected to live in Freeland in the future, and instead, will lead to urban sprawl.

There is too much land for the 4,000 people that have been projected to live in Freeland within

20 years, Streicher said.

“The big thing from my point of view is size of land. There are very strict guidelines as to the relationship between the amount of land in the NMUGA and the number of people,” he said. “The way the county has it, there is too much land for the number of people.”

Land that should be removed from the growth area includes parcels containing Freeland Hill and rural lands that boarder East Harbor Road, Streicher said.

“The idea of the NMUGA is to make what is ‘urban’ urban and keep what is ‘rural’ rural,” he said.

Streicher said he thinks there is too much land within the growth area because he has crunched the numbers and it appears the number of homes that will be spread out over Freeland’s urban landscape will fall short of state growth goals. Generally, state growth experts say urban areas have an average of four homes per acre.

Freeland’s growth area falls short, he said.

“You take the number of houses and divide it by the number of acres left over after removing land for critical areas, golf courses, etc and you’re left with 2.56 houses per acre on the average,” Streicher said. “You’re supposed to have four [homes per acre]. That means you have too much land, doesn’t it?”

The amount of land on Freeland Hill and bordering East Harbor Road removed by Streicher’s petition would be countered by the proposed addition of land across Highway 525 along Fish Road

and other properties across Highway 525 further south, he said.

Streicher said the land that would be added to Freeland’s growth area is more urban in nature than the properties he would like to see taken out.

He has other reasons for wanting to see Freeland Hill kept out of the plan.

“From an aesthetic point of view, we want to see the trees on Freeland Hill. From a more practical point of view, Freeland Hill has steep slopes,” he added. “It’s in a high-charged aquifer area. If you take trees off there and put concrete up there, you’ll screw it up.”

Streicher said the whole plan is flawed and should be invalidated, and pointed to data more than 10 years old that was used in the growth-guiding document.

He also wants to see funding in place for the sewer system that is needed before Freeland can become developed at urban densities, rather than just a plan that talks about future funding.

“They haven’t been able to come up with anything that the people would buy. They’ve had from 2005 to 2008 and nothing has happened. Why? They don’t have the money,” he said.

“If the Growth Management Hearings Board agrees with me, then the whole plan is out,” he said. “They have to have a sewer plan and funding.”

Jeff Tate, the planning department’s director, said he was not surprised that the plan was appealed. Work will continue on follow-up actions

“We deal with a large segment of the population. That there would be one party who is unsatisfied is normal. We seek ways to find the middle ground,” Tate said. “But the plan is in effect. It doesn’t go away with this appeal or stall the process. It’s active now.”

“In terms of how it affects us, it slows us down a bit,” he added. “Our next step is to work on the development regulations. It wouldn’t be too wise to move too fast when there is pending litigation. It has the effect of having us move a little more slowly and cautiously.”

It’s not known how a lengthy appeals process on the plan may impact the work being done to incorporate Freeland. Freeland must stay classified as an NMUGA for a vote on cityhood to take place.

“I don’t know enough about the implications of the appeal and what it’s going to do to the Freeland plan and how we’re going to proceed,” said Meg Wingard, the new chairwoman of the Freeland City Committee.

“He (Streicher) had made it clear that he was working on this. My hunch is that we’re simply going to let it go forward. We certainly can’t stop it,” Wingard said.

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