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Freeland looks at cityhood

Freeland could become the second largest city on Whidbey Island. A local group of volunteers is exploring the possibility of incorporating the rural community.

Residents in the Freeland area may get to vote on the idea as early as next spring.

If incorporated, Freeland would have an estimated population of between 2,500 and 2,800; larger than Langley with 850 people, Clinton with 800 or Coupeville with its population of 1,800.

In terms of geographic size, some are already suggesting a town more than twice as big as Langley.

“We are roughing out the boundaries at this point. They will become more refined in a few weeks,” said Chet Ross said, a member of the Freeland incorporation committee.

The draft boundaries for the city of Freeland include the area from Holmes Harbor to Mutiny Bay, north to Honeymoon Lake and west to Puget Sound. The proposed boundary takes in Mutiny Bay Road to Dow Road and Lancaster Road to Double Bluff Park; it also includes the Useless Bay Colony and golf course south to Thompson Road and Highway 525. The proposed city limits would include all of the non-municipal growth area, and more.

The city of Langley consists of 653 acres and Freeland’s non-municipal urban growth area of 1,063 acres would be expanded significantly.

Incorporation is not a simple task. Aside from voter approval, the city’s financial viably must be established.

“At this time we are in the exploratory stages. Our group is not advocating at this point, we are gathering as many facts as we can,” Ross said.

Based on the draft boundaries, Ross’ says there is $3 billion of property value, and that would mean millions in taxes.

Yet to be determined is an estimate of the amount of money that can be collected from sales tax. Other revenue sources include excise and franchise taxes.

“There were many issues to address. Are we ready to be a city? We don’t have all the answers yet,” said Mike Dolan, chairman of the Vision 2025 committee.

“We need to determine how all of our municipal services would be provided including fire, police, utilities and public works such as road repair and maintenance.”

The Vision 2025 Committee, an organization formed to help direct the future of Freeland, is a joint effort of the Freeland Chamber of Commerce and Friends of Freeland. The incorporation committee is one of six subcommittees of Vision 2025,

The group of volunteers who are researching the nuts and bolts of incorporation for Freeland acknowledge there are more questions than answers, and that their investigation is exploratory. While the committee is currently reviewing the steps involved in becoming a city. It does not necessarily support the incorporation of Freeland.

To go forward, the group plans to hire an outside firm to do a feasibility study on the financial viability of forming a city.

“All of this information has to be available before there could be a vote on the question,” Dolan said. “These questions must be resolved 60 days prior to the election.”

“Some reasons for incorporation; control and use of taxes, local control, design review and a sense of community identity,” Dolan said.

“Local control” could become a main selling point. Activists have long argued with the county over growth and development in the Freeland area, including on issues such as building sizes and commercial development along Highway 525.

Incorporation could include what some might see as downsides, as well.

Beyond adding another layer of government for Freeland residents, the city could become more urbanized with more intense and dense development, and additional commercial development along the highway is a possibility. Large lots of five acres or more could be subdivided and developed with more homes, and the farmland that stretches to the island’s southern coast could eventually be replaced by subdivisions.

Freeland has a long history as a distinct community.

In the early 1900s, a group of people settled on the shores of Holmes Harbor and established the small Socialist community of Freeland. The political movement died after a few years, but Freeland continued to grow into a commercial center.

Incorporation must be voter approved by the residents living within the proposed boundaries of the city. Registered voters would be eligible to vote on the question, and a simple majority would approve the measure.

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