Freeland committee publishes draft plan

"Volunteer and professional planners charting the future of the Freeland area released the first draft of a growth and zoning plan Thursday night that could dictate how crowded the town will become and how it will look in coming decades.Members of the Freeland subarea planning committee got their first look at the plan at their Thursday meeting, as well as a warning from Island County assistant planner Michael Schechter that the document is far from complete.I wouldn't mind if you ripped it to shreds, Schechter said.A summary of two years of work, a sheaf of issue papers and dozens of draft zoning maps, the 83-page plan will be the basis of the committee's work as it plans Freeland as one of South Whidbey's major population centers. Though the committee has often discussed planning Freeland as a non-municipal urban growth area (NMUGA) - which would require the construction of a sewer system - board members said Thursday that they do not yet agree whether Freeland should be a city, part of Island County, or something in between.Schechter said the draft as it is written plans for a population of about 5,000 people within the Freeland and Holmes Harbor areas at a density close to four homes per acre. Those numbers are targets the state has asked the committee to build into their plan.Even without the targets or a growth plan, Schechter said, Freeland could grow to about 3,900 people, based on the amount of buildable land available. He said it is a good idea to plan for the state target even though he believes Freeland will never have 5,000 people.We don't think 5,000 people are going to come here, he said.Setting up the plan for a population smaller than 5,000 will require some convincing of the county, said Island County Planner Phil Bakke. If local circumstances, such as the lay of the land, warrant lower housing densities than the state is pushing for, Bakke said, the committee can plan for fewer people.Committee member Pete Friedman said aiming for a lower density might be a good idea if Freeland wants to keep its character.Be careful what you plan for. You might just get it, he said.None of the commissioners have had time to study the draft plan in depth. However, Friedman said a portion of the plan that addresses critical areas - such as wetlands and shoreline - needs more attention. Committee members also noted that one of the residential zones they created during the past two years, the rural estate zone, had been replaced in the plan with a low density zone. Committee member Steve Shapiro said the group will probably play a shell game with density numbers over the next few months as they try to define what high, medium and low density housing means in Freeland.Committee chairman Tom Roehl told the committee not to forget that one of the goals in planning Freeland is to funnel growth on South Whidbey to the Freeland area.The draft plan will be available in all South Whidbey libraries and at Island County's Planning "

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