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Growth Board visits island to hear plan disputes

"Last June, the Western Washington Growth Management Hearing's Board ruled that portions of the county's long-range growth plan failed to limit sprawl and protect the environment and therefore did not comply with state's Growth Management Act. Last Wednesday, the board returned to Coupeville to hear the county defend the changes commissioners have made to the plan and to hear from opponents who say the county is still breaking the law.In general, the arguments were much the same as they have been for more than two years with Whidbey Environmental Action Network spokesman Steve Erickson saying the county is taking only minimal and inadequate action in limiting development and in separating development from wildlife habitat, streams and wetlands.The county's outside attorneys Keith Dearborn and Alison Moss argued that county planners have used good science and sound reasoning in their decisions and that WEAN was asking the board to delve in details rather than the overall legality of the plan.Here is a short overview of some of the topics.Rural densityIn the county's original plan, land zoned as Rural could be developed at a density of one home per five acres and permitted land zoned as Rural Agriculture or Rural Forest to easily rezone to Rural status. The growth board rejected that provision saying it could threaten less dense larger parcels in Commercial Agriculture and Resource zones as well as the future expansion of cities. The board called for the county to zone for a variety of rural densities. The county has eliminated the provision that allows Rural Agriculture or Rural Forest to readily rezone to Rural. Those zones are now currently in a one-home-per-10-acre density classification. Dearborn asked the board to now count those zones as part of the required variety.But Erickson said much of the county is already in smaller parcels than five acres and should not count as rural. He said simply eliminating the rezone did not satisfy the variety requirement.HeronsWEAN objected to a plan provision which requires a study to be done if development comes within 300 feet of a heron nest. Erickson cited several studies that say development should be kept from 800 feet to 1,000 feet away. He said 300 feet as simply a trigger for a site assessment will virtually guarantee disturbance of nesting areas. The county also cited a consultant study concluding 300 feet was adequate.ShorelinesThe county plan allows shoreline lots sandwiched between already-built lots or those on the end of a development to reduce the size of buffer now required between the home and the shore. Moss argued that in a development where neighboring homes had only a 20-foot buffer, new homes should not have to have a 75-foot buffer. They also pointed out that only represented only about 214 lots in the county.Erickson said those 214 lots represented about 2 1/2 miles of coastline which also represented the possibility of another 2 1/2 miles of bulkheads and other shoreline armoring which could harm near-shore habitat.Planned Residential Developments and Functionally Isolated BuffersThese were also discussed."

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