Planners update 2013 ‘to do’ list for Island County

The Island County Planning Commission has a full plate this year.

The 2013 Annual Review Docket was approved this month and tasks the commission with the completion of three major items: a fish and wildlife critical areas update, work on the 2016 comprehensive plan update and a proposed change to the Port of Coupeville’s Greenbank Farm master plan.

While the list is rather short compared to past dockets the first two items on this year’s agenda are complex issues that will not be completed quickly, said Val Hillers, a Coupeville resident and vice-chairwoman of the commission.

“They are going to take a lot of time,” Hillers said.

The commission is composed of nine volunteer citizens from Whidbey and Camano islands. An advisory group, members make recommendations to the Island County commissioners on matters concerning growth and development.

The group’s first meeting to discuss the approved docket begins at 9 a.m. Tuesday, April 9, in the Commissioner’s Hearing Room in Coupeville.

The critical areas update has been on the docket before but has been tabled for lack of resources and other timely agenda items, such as the shoreline master program update, which was completed last year.

Island County was forced to tackle the issue this year after a Whidbey environmental group brought the matter before the Growth Management Hearings Board. The board ruled the issue had to be completed in July of 2014.

Hillers said the update will require public hearings and may be nearly as time intensive as the shoreline master program.

“Whether we can do it this year, I don’t know,” Hillers said.

Brad Johnson, a senior planner with Island County Planning and Community Development, said this is a complex issue that will require hiring a special consultant. Even with the help, having everything done by 2014 is a tall order but it will be the commissioners’ focus none-the-less, he said.

“It’s been ranked as our highest priority,” Johnson said.

The comprehensive plan update will also be time intensive, though there is no set deadline by the end of the year. Work will likely continue annually until the update is complete in 2016.

The work includes a public participation plan and preliminary schedule, a county-wide planning policies and populations projection and a regional growth trends and population allocation.

Rufus Rose, a South Whidbey resident and a regular at county government meetings, is spreading the word of the planning commission’s April meeting and is encouraging public attendance.

Establishing a solid public participation plan and preliminary schedule will be a key factor in the overall success of the update, he said. Rose believes the current comprehensive plan hinders, rather than fosters, a healthy economy.

“Island County is hostile to business,” Rose said.

People need to be aware of the process so they can communicate the problem and recommendations, he said. A healthier economy will benefit residents but also help the financially struggling county, he said.

Finally, the port’s proposed Greenbank master program amendment may take the least amount of time. The request is to revise the farm’s current zoning to match a recently adopted conservation easement.

Hillers and Johnson agree that this will likely be the least time intensive of the commission’s priority docket items. Still, all are large and complex issues, making for a busy 2013.

“We’ll do the best job we can,” Hillers said.


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