Freeland growth plan makes its way to Olympia

Timing on ballot measure not settled

FREELAND — While Island County has placed Freeland’s plan for growth in the hands of the state for review, incorporation proponents differ over when voters will get to decide if Freeland becomes a city.

Mike Dolan, chairman of the Vision 2025 Committee, said that even if Freeland’s growth plan is approved in October and no appeals are filed, it would likely be summer 2008 before incorporation is placed on the ballot. Supporters of Freeland cityhood need time to launch a community education effort on incorporation after the growth plan is adopted.

“If the commissioners actually adopt in October, which is the current schedule, then they are looking at mid-December. So there is nothing really going to get kicked off until sometime in January at best,” Dolan said.

Island County will host a meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 28 on Freeland’s growth plan (called the Freeland Sub-Area Plan) at Trinity Lutheran Church in the gymnasium.

If appeals of the growth plan enter into the equation, Dolan said more time would be spent working through the issues before the incorporation process could continue.

“In the worst-case-scenario, in that 60-day period, somebody decides they don’t like something in the sub-area plan and they file an appeal,” he said. “It only takes one.”

Dean Enell is more optimistic, however, that the commissioners will approve the sub-area plan.

Enell, chairman of the Freeland Incorporation Committee, hopes to submit the “notice of intent” to incorporate during the 60-day period ahead of time.

“My goal was not to jump to conclusions that the vote would be put off until at best, fall of 2008. Certainly that is a possibility,” he said.

“It could also be the spring of 2008. They can take up to 60 days to review that and respond to it, but that doesn’t mean they have to take that long,” he said.

For Enell, getting a head start on the incorporation process means that a vote on incorporation could come as soon as February.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Island County will take testimony and give feedback on the sub-area plan.

Some people on the South End have already highlighted their concerns with the growth plan. Some Freeland residents are circulating a petition that would limit development on Freeland Hill. More than 100 people have already signed the petition to change zoning levels for the forested land.

The potential of unchecked city growth is another issue that has Marianne Edain, a member of the Whidbey Environmental Action Network, concerned. She is worried that urban sprawl may occur once Freeland achieves status as a non-municiple urban growth area.

“My concern is that at present Freeland is designated as a RAID (rural area of intense development) and it is not allowed to expand from the ‘logical outer boundaries’ as they existed in 1990,” she said.

“So that, in and of itself, would limit development around Freeland. Once it becomes a non-municiple urban growth area, it can continue to expand its boundaries — theoretically forever,” she said.

She did not say whether WEAN would file an appeal if the sub-area plan is adopted.

“We may not like something. If it is perfectly legal, there is not a whole lot of a point in appealing it,” she said. “If there is something that is a flagrant violation of the Growth Management Act, we might feel like we had to appeal it,” she said.

“We would rather participate in the process ahead of time. We are not committed to appealing and I am not committed to not appealing,” Edain added.

Getting the long-awaited plan to the point of state review has proved long and tedious for all those concerned.

But the county’s planning department and incorporation proponents alike have expressed satisfaction for the latest work.

“There is a lot of excitement in the department about being able to move this product forward. We have more of a complete product,” said Jeff Tate, assistant director of the Island County planning department.

Dolan agreed.

“I am really pleased that it is moving along that quickly. The county’s desire to move ahead quickly to adopt the sub-area plan, as indicated by Commissioner (Mike) Shelton, has really proven that they stuck to their word,” Dolan said.

The sub-area plan defines Freeland’s future and includes a look at zoning policies and land use.

While the plan could be adopted by the commissioners as early as October, there is more work that needs to be done. One of the most important elements is designing a sewer system that can handle more dense development, Tate said.

“There are other elements that still need to be addressed,” he said. “We still need to look at some capital facilities, transportation issues. We need to look at parks and open space. But those pieces plug into the land-use piece and the land-use piece cannot happen without the sewer.”

According to the draft plan, Freeland would need to maintain an average of four dwelling units per acre. At present, Freeland falls short of that standard.

One of the plan’s stated goals is to create a staged, orderly and distributed development pattern that keeps Freeland as a high quality place to live while making room for a future population of 4,000.

With the sub-area plan now being reviewed at the state level, Tate said it’s time to resolve other issues that will arise once the plan is adopted.

“To me it is that decision tree of how you deal with permits,” he said. “First you set up the process of who is involved, what are the timely requirements going to be, so we can tell the people across the counter what to expect.

“Then you get into the filler, which is important; the design standards, landscaping, the size of buildings, the detail of what can be allowed,” he said.

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