Big issues still separate sides in growth plan

"Though Island County continues to inch closer to a completed and legal 20-year growth plan, a few big issues have yet to be resolved. They include how much density to permit in rural areas; what kind of farm activities can be done on land in and around wetlands, streams and lakes; whether to protect more species of plants and animals; how close to the shoreline a new home can be built; and how large the buffer needs to be around small, seasonal streams.In its ruling last week, the Western Washington Growth Management Hearing's Board gave the county a boost by approving nearly all the revisions county planners have made in recent months.It's a good thing, said Island County Planning Director Phil Bakke. When we started out, we had a lot more than 23 issues on appeal. The growth board narrowed it down to 23 and now 16 or 17 are done.Bakke included a couple of issues on the size of the Bayview and West Beach RAIDs (Rural Areas of more Intense Development) that he expects to have approved by the board within a few days. But the board also awarded a few key points to the Whidbey Environmental Action Network - the local group that has appealed many county laws on the grounds that they do not restrict excess development and protect the environment.WEAN spokesman Steve Erickson said he was very pleased that the board agreed with his position on shoreline setbacks. The county proposal would allow land owners to build new homes as close to the shoreline as the homes built on each side of their lot as long as they follow strict standards. WEAN objected to the county plan saying it would lead to more bulkheads and increased loss of shoreline habitat just so land owners could have a better view.We all know the U.S. Constitution says that all shoreline property owners are guaranteed a great view, Erickson said sarcastically. We won big on that one.Erickson said he was also encouraged by a line in the board's decision reminding the county that it cannot choose its own science over all other science in making decisions. In continuing debate over protection of streams and wetlands, Erickson said the county has based much of their arguments on the findings of one consultant despite contrary findings by other experts.That will likely be very useful to us ... because the county has chosen to use their science above all else, he said.Bakke admits work still needs to be done but said that progress is being made on all the issues. He said the county is committed to completing a legal plan by this spring.Erickson said WEAN has already filed petitions of review on some of the issues decided by the board."

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