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Commissioners OK Freeland growth plan

FREELAND — Island County commissioners unanimously voted to designate Freeland an urban area after a public meeting at Trinity Lutheran Church Monday night.

The vote brings to an end an unexpectedly long process to adopt Freeland’s future growth plan. And more recently, the lack of an urban designation for the South End’s commercial and financial hub have prevented supporters of cityhood for Freeland from getting the incorporation issue before voters.

County commissioners said they were happy to finally finish the work on Freeland’s growth plan.

“It’s kind of ironic that I started this in the planning level with

74 meetings and then elected to the position where I can adopt it,” said County Commissioner Phil Bakke, the county’s former chief of planning.

“I truly believe it is the right thing to do, to move forward and work collaboratively with the community. The plan provides that framework,” he said.

The guide for future growth, officially called the Freeland Sub Area Plan, has been under intensive scrutiny for months now. The Island County Planning Commission recently wrapped up its review of the plan, and the county planning department forwarded the document to county commissioners on Nov. 21.

With Freeland designated as a “non-municipal urban growth area,” or NMUGA, the way is clear for Freeland residents to vote to make Freeland a city at some point next year.

Once urban-scale infrastructure is put in place, mainly a sewage treatment system, the area would then be able to develop under the more intensive zoning set out in the sub area plan.

About 40 percent of the land in the NMUGA is currently zoned “rural.” More homes can now be built in Freeland. The residential “build-out” capacity of the NMUGA under current zoning is between 1,650 to 2,730 new homes, or an additional population between 3,861 to 6,388 people.

Under the sub area plan approved by the commissioners, Freeland could have between 1,290 and 2,800 new homes, not counting new residences in the “business general,” “business office” and “Freeland village” zones.

Freeland’s population would increase between 3,019 and 6,552.

There was still criticism as commissioners moved to adopt the Freeland plan, however.

Mitch Streicher said the plan is different than the one a volunteer growth-planning committee submitted to the county.

Much of the early work on planning revolved around design and aesthetic issues, and some had hoped the new plan would require a design review committee that would sign off on proposed development projects.

“The devil is in the details. If the county ignores the Freeland Sub-Area Planning Committee regarding design standards, then the people who drew up the plan have withdrawn their support and there is no (plan),” Streicher said.

“To the extent there is any plan at all, it’s a county plan without input from the people of Freeland. When the county’s plan is challenged, that will be the reason for which it is challenged,” he said.

Lou Malzone of Freeland questioned the county commissioners’ reasoning to change the content of the plan from what the Freeland Sub-Area Planning Committee forwarded to the county.

“How can the commissioners justify changing Freeland from a rural area of intense development to an NMUGA without meeting the directions of the Freeland Sub-Area Planning Committee based upon incorrect findings?” Malzone asked. “This plan simply does not represent the work of the people who participated over the years in the planning process.”

“I have mixed emotions about the vote,” he added. “I think that it is important that they get the policy in the plan which says there will be design review standards. I am not 100 percent satisfied but glad we’re moving forward.”

Freeland Incorporation Committee chairman Dean Enell agreed.

“I think they made the correct choice. We’ve had a long time for this to happen. There has been a lot of talking,” Enell said.

“They’re finally taking some action, taking that first step to give Freeland a chance to determine its own future; to be treated differently than the rest of the county, because we are different from the rest of the county.”

“The heavy work for the NMUGA starts now. We have to get into writing the regs, the code and the zoning,” said Freeland Chamber of Commerce president Chet Ross.

“It was pleasant they acted on it.”

“Now we wait in terms of the incorporation exercise,” Ross added. “If there are no appeals or there is nothing that would slow it down, in February, we can get back to moving forward.”

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

Community Events, April 2014

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