Freeland land use meet packs 'em in
June 25, 2008 · Updated 11:56 AM
"They ran out of chairs. Maps, photocopies and cookies too.The Freeland Subarea Planning Committee had hoped that local residents would turn out Thursday night to give them feedback and ideas on future growth planning, but it was obvious early on that they had underestimated the approximately 170 people who showed up.The meeting, held at the Trinity Lutheran Church, was standing room only with some participants left standing in the doorway. The general mood of the crowd was polite but frustrated at what many see as already out-of-control growth being forced upon the community.The county's Comprehensive Plan calls for Freeland and Clinton to absorb a greater density of future residents than the rural lands that surround them. In Freeland that could mean an increase of 2,600 residents during the next 20 years according to county projections. Current population is about 1,100. To do so, the communities will have to change from their current status as small pockets of mixed use known as Rural Areas of more Intense Development or RAIDs, to Non-Municipal Urban Growth Areas with more urban services such as water, sewer and transportation systems.Committee members, who have been working with county planners for almost 17 months mapping existing conditions and setting up a framework for local planning, held Thursday's public open house before going any further.Growth will occur. Uncontrolled growth is disastrous, committee member Steve Shapiro told the large crowd. It will take time. It will take cooperation and it will take money.Shapiro added that residents should not expect the county to provide the funding needed to build urban-support infrastructure such as sewers. That responsibility will likely fall to local residents. Though the committee had no specific costs outlined they broadly estimated that a sewer system alone could mean an initial property tax assessment of from $10,000 to $12,000 per lot plus hook up and use fees.But the cost of infrastructure drew very little comment during the public testimony portion of Thursday night's meeting. Instead, residents focused more on potential damage to Freeland's appearance and water resources. Applause erupted several times when speakers talked about restricting growth and reducing the number of future residents the community has to plan for.I find it ironic to describe the rural nature of Freeland while at the same time talking about tripling the population, said local resident Karen Jennings. Another resident, Scott Mauk, added to Jennings' comments, citing the appearance of Oak Harbor with its sprawl of Wal-Mart and car dealerships.I know for a fact, folks in this community don't want to end up looking like that, he said. But Freeland residents are in a bind. If they choose not to grow and stay a RAID the committee will dissolve and they will pretty much lose any local control over future development. If they accept the NMUGA designation and begin building infrastructure, as the county hopes, they can legally chart much of their own destiny - perhaps even to the point of incorporation as a city with its own planning commission and elected officials.Some, like Freeland businessman Herb Hunt, said control was critical.I want Freeland to be planned and not an accident with the Highway 99 look, he said. I support the UGA boundaries and local control.But others said that even while the committee is at work trying to locally plan Freeland's future, the county is accepting and approving development applications in and around the community that don't necessarily match their vision.How many projects are already vested? asked Freeland physician Patrice O'Neill. I can see us doing all this planning while other things crop up like mushrooms after the rain.Already vested projects such as a gas station/mini mart/car wash and mini storage facility on the outskirts of town have irritated local residents who criticized county officials for allowing a window of opportunity for developers to submit new proposals prior to implementing laws that would make such proposals illegal.Committee member Pete Friedman said he agreed with some of the objections and suggested that the committee might ask the county for a moratorium on development in the area until a local plan and regulations are in place. His suggestion was met with cheers and applause from the crowd.Following the open house, Island County Planning Director Phil Bakke said he understands people are upset but he said much of their frustration is based on poor planning policies of the past, not those in place now. He said the proposed gas station project must meet tough new design criteria such as pitched roofs and natural siding that will help it fit better into the rural environment.The committee plans several more public open houses before making a formal recommendation to county commissioners. "