Coupeville ponders growth, preservation

The future of Coupeville is under construction as town officials struggle with the question of how the tension between growth and historic and rural preservation will play out in the decades to come.

The answer to this issue rests largely in the ongoing development of the town's comprehensive plan, which is currently under bi-annual review. A number of radical changes are being proposed by town planner Larry Cort.

Cort is proposing to re-zone a handful of areas from their current status of medium to low-density residential, while creating a new "special development area," a 33-plus acre parcel north Highway 20 between Broadway and N. Main Streets -- owned by town resident Cecil Stuurmans -- where large portion of the town's future growth would be concentrated.

What's interesting and, in terms of planning, frustrating for Coupeville is what Cort has dubbed the "Coupeville Paradox." The paradox is this: the town is required by state law to plan for urban densities even though it is within Ebey's National Historical Reserve, a federal designation that mandates the preservation of rural and historic culture.

Four months ago, Cort presented to the Coupeville town council a plan that seeks to overcome the challenges of the "Coupeville Paradox." Though no formal action has been taken, the council expressed approval of Cort's proposals.

Cort said he welcomes all public discussion of his proposed changes.

"I'm the first to say if the community doesn't like these proposals, then let's get rid of them," Cort said.

For the most part, Cort said, response to the plan has been encouraging. "The oral response has been overwhelmingly positive," he said.

Cort said the proposal to create a special development area has generated the most community interest. Currently, the land is an undeveloped wooded area.

Under Cort's proposal, First Street would continue through the development. The plan would preserve a 33-foot wide stand of trees in the middle of the development, and 6.5 acres would be dedicated as open space. A total of 120 single-family residences would be allowed under the proposal. The development would go toward 160 required by 2020 under the states Growth Management Act.

According to Cort, some of the advantages of creating such a development area include the preservation of large tracts of open space, low impact on water resources and the establishment of affordable housing for lower to middle income families.

Some Coupeville residents expressed ambivalence over certain aspects of the proposals at Tuesday's planning meeting. George Lloyd, an 18-year Coupeville resident, said Tuesday he's concerned about the "monopolistic" aspect of the comp plan amendments. Lloyd said allowing the majority of future development to take place on land owned by a single person gives the appearance of favoritism.

"The appearance of the whole thing is not right," he said.

Cort said he disagreed with the idea that creating a future development plan for Stuurmans' property was a negative aspect of the comp plan.

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