New law could put the brakes on development

"If something isn't done to improve Whidbey Island's highways by the year 2020, development restrictions could have to be put in place.At a public meeting in Bayview last week, Island County Public Works Director Larry Kwarsick explained the county's updated transportation plan, which was revised to comply with the new state concurrency law, which requires local planning to be tied to highway and ferry capacity.Ferries were a moot issue from the county's point of view, Kwarsick said. There's nothing we can do about the ferry system. But increased highway traffic could eventually impact development plans on both South Whidbey and, particularly, in Oak Harbor.The plan predicts that all county arterials will continue to meet state level of service standards to 2020. But the same is not true of state highways. The only county highway expected to be out of compliance with state capacity standards by 2006 is Highway 532 on Camano Island.By 2020, or even 2015, Oak Harbor traffic will exceed limits on Highway 20 from Oak Harbor to south of Jones Road, from Monkey Hill Road to Deception Pass, and from Oak Harbor to Miller Road.On South Whidbey, Highway 525 from Scott Road to Coles Road is expected to be over its carrying capacity, if no improvements are made over the next 20 years.Developers will require a concurrency certificate before a project is started, Kwarsick said. If a project will increase highway traffic beyond the state's limit, it will not be allowed. This is how strong concurrency is, Kwarsick said. Throw concurrency in and it stops it -- it's done, there's no discretion. It's a powerful law.Using Oak Harbor as an example, Kwarsick said a time could come when concurrency stops all development other than single family homes. In setting concurrency standards, Kwarsick said the state took a conservative approach, because the law is unique to Island County. The law's sponsor, Rep. Dave Anderson, D-Clinton, aimed to tie growth in Island County to highway and ferry capacity.By 2015 from Oak Harbor to the (Deception Pass) bridge could all be out of compliance, Kwarsick said. It would take a four-way roadway to bring it up to LOS (level of service) standards again.Kwarsick said lack of ferry service could some day have an impact on development, but it isn't in our face right now -- we see that out in the future.Unless the highways are improved or the concurrency standards change, the future is certain from Kwarsick's point of view. Fifteen years from now if nothing happens we'll have a development problem on North Whidbey, he said.The Island County Planning Commission will hold a hearing on the updated transportation plan before it is adopted. The hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14, in the Commissioners Hearing Room in the Island County Courthouse. "

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