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State cuts growth areas down to size

"The growth boundaries county officials have drawn around Freeland and Clinton go too far.That was the verdict the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board handed down last week while reviewing the county's Comprehensive Plan.The decision will likely force the county to tighten up the boundaries and rethink the way growth can happen in the two unincorporated towns. It will also likely put a damper on some planning ideas being tossed around by planning committees in each town.I'm kind of baffled by the decision, said Tom Roehl, chairman of the Freeland Subarea Planning Committee. It doesn't make it impossible but it does make it a lot more difficult.The Comprehensive Plan, adopted more than a year ago, charts how the county will deal with the next 20 years of population growth and development. In it, Freeland and Clinton have been designated as Rural Areas of more Intense Development or RAIDs. What that means is that they are already developed more than is permitted in rural areas under the new plan but they do not have development-supporting infrastructure, such as a sewer system, that would allow them to become designated cities.County planners want to see the two towns develop infrastructure so that they can accept a greater density of development - thus keeping development from spreading out into the more rural parts of the county. The state's Growth Management Act requires counties to direct new growth to urban areas and prevent sprawl.The act permits counties to designate RAIDs that can infill with similar density to what already exists. But RAID boundaries must be tightly drawn around existing development with no provisions for outward growth.The hearings board first told the county to reduce the Freeland and Clinton RAID boundaries last summer when they first reviewed the plan. Instead, the county commissioners chose to leave the boundaries in place and convince the board they were correct.They failed.Last week's decision expressly tells the county where to trim the RAIDs. It cuts the Clinton RAID down by more than a third and the Freeland RAID by as much as two-thirds. Most of the cuts in Clinton come along its western boundary. Both the Holmes Harbor Estates property and a large chunk of land south of Highway 525 were eliminated from the Freeland RAID.Roehl said what's left of Freeland's growth area isn't enough to financially build and support a sewer system. Holmes Harbor Estates already has a sewer system in place that local planners were hoping might be expanded to include Freeland. With that property now removed, Roehl said the county and town will now have to decide whether to take the next step toward Urban Growth Area status in order to pull the land back in. They can't do that until they can guarantee infrastructure and decide who will pay for it.We'll need to plan on it being a UGA because planning for it to remain a RAID doesn't make sense, said Roehl. That's nothing new, however. The Freeland committee has long anticipated a UGA designation for the town.Meanwhile, the county has still been accepting development applications for land they will now have to remove from the RAID. The Citizens Growth Management Coalition, which originally appealed the county's RAID boundaries to the state board, came away the winner this time. But Coalition spokesman Charlie Stromberg said the growth board should have cracked down harder on the commissioners the first time around instead of letting more than a year's worth of development applications build up.We've been saying to the hearings board you've got to stop these guys right now and they didn't do it, said Stromberg.Island County planner Jeff Tate said the commissioners, consultants and legal counsel are now discussing their options. The growth board has given the county until June 30 to comply with their decision before commencing hearings that could lead to the invalidation county laws regarding the Freeland and Clinton RAIDs."

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