Freeland planners get frustrated
June 25, 2008 · Updated 2:05 PM
"After two-and-a -half years of planning with not a lot to show for it, frustration is showing on the Freeland Subarea Planning Committee.Emotions rose to the surface at last week's monthly meeting when member Steve Shapiro walked out after a debate about Freeland's future status.He took his concerns to Island County Commissioner Mike Shelton in a telephone conversation Tuesday.Shelton said Wednesday the issue boils down to the old debate about whether Freeland should remain a RAID (Rural Area of Intense Development), or NMUGA (Non-Municipal Urban Growth Area).As a less densely developed RAID, Freeland would continue to be governed by the Island County Comprehensive Plan. But Shapiro and others would like to see Freeland have its own plan even if it remains a RAID.Shelton said his position on the issue has always been the same. As a RAID, Freeland could not have its own separate comprehensive plan. But he added that would not preclude local input, such as some design review authority. That could be added to the county plan as it is amended. It's possible, Shelton said. There are issues we need to talk about.The Freeland Subarea Committee also needs to appoint a new member to replace Al Peyser who resigned in late June. Peyser cited the length of time already used in planning, and predicted it could take another year before the Freeland plan is finished.Elaborating later by telephone, Peyser, an engineer, voiced frustration over the time it has taken to plan Freeland. It's tragic it's taken this long, he said.Shelton, asked about the time issue, laughed as he remembered the eight years of criticism the county commissioners took as the Island County plan was being created. It's far and away the most difficult thing I've ever been involved in, he said. It's always very contentious and time consuming. He voiced no surprise over the time Freeland has taken, or the controversies that have erupted.Peyser also complained about the leadership of the Freeland committee, which is chaired by Tom Roehl. He said he and other members of the committee would like someone new as chairman, someone who takes a less active role in the discussion. Everything needs to be done his way, said Peyser.No committee member has made a motion to replace Roehl as chairman, however. Nobody wants to voice what they really feel because it might hurt somebody else's feelings, Peyser said. He (Roehl) is the most knowledgeable person on the board, but the committee chairman should be silent.Another committee member, Chuck Edwards, attributed delays to other members who have constantly criticized the planning process while suggesting other approaches. As a result, he believes, not enough actual planning has been accomplished in the 30 months since the process started. It's been 80 percent process and 20 percent substance, he said.Roehl expressed uncertainty about what his critics want. I don't know for sure, he said. He sees the disagreement as being mainly with county staff who have overseen the Freeland planning effort. The staff recently submitted a draft Freeland plan which critics say contains little input from the Freeland community, and indeed reads the same as the Clinton plan in places.Some committee members were offended by that, but Roehl described the document as simply a template from which we can work . . . we're just starting the process of editing it.If there's one thing everyone agrees on, it's the fact that a Freeland sewer study should have been done long ago. It's impossible to do specific planning without knowing what areas might have sewers available. The plan has a huge hole in it, Shelton admitted.The money for the study was approved by the county commissioners months ago. The sticking point has been working out an agreement among Island County, the Freeland Water District and the Holmes Harbor Sewer District, all of which would play a role in any future sewer system for Freeland.The Holmes Harbor Sewer District is embroiled in controversy over a $20 million bond sale that has been questioned by state auditors. As a result, its commissioners are apparently reluctant to get involved in a new enterprise.Roehl said Island County and Freeland Water District could proceed without Holmes Harbor, but that isn't something Shelton supports. I hope we can proceed with them, he said.How long before the go-ahead is given for the long-awaited sewer study?Sooner rather than later, said Shelton. "