Tom Roehl, Freeland's planner, dies at 56

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He was the man best fit the title "the mayor of Freeland."

On Saturday, Tom Roehl, a municipal planner who perhaps knew more about what Freeland was and what it could be in the future, died at Whidbey General Hospital after a lengthy illness. He was 56.

A Greenbank resident, Roehl was nonetheless the top authority on planning issues in Freeland. Owner and sole proprietor of TJ Roehl and Associates, a planning and municipal property management firm, he did project planning and management for the Port of South Whidbey for 23 years and was also the project planner and manager for the Freeland Water District. In addition, he served as the chairman of the Freeland Sub-Area Planning Committee from its inception in the late 1990s.

Amidst all that work, he also played a major part in Island County's creation of a comprehensive land use plan.

Phil Bakke, the county's planning director, said he does not remember Roehl missing a single Island County Planning Commission meeting between 1998 and 2000. It was during that period the commission created the comprehensive plan, based on the state's Growth Management Act.

"He's contributed thousands of hours to county planning and public testimony," Bakke said Monday, shortly after hearing of Roehl's death. "I can't think of a member of the public who was that involved."

Bakke said he and Roehl worked closely on planning issues in Freeland. But they were not always on the same side of the issues.

"He was certainly a spirited debater," he said.

He credited Roehl with keeping the Freeland Sub-Area Planning Committee on task over the years through the strength of his personality.

Also remembering Roehl this week was Jan Smith, who served eight years as a Port of South Whidbey commissioner. During her term of office, which ended last year, Smith said she got to know Roehl as a "colorful, much maligned" project manager who was, in her mind, knowledgeable and practical above all.

She credited him for almost single handedly creating Possession Point Park and its trail system, as well as one of South Whidbey's best-loved waterside spots, Freeland Park.

She also noted that Roehl wrote the Port's first comprehensive plan an provided all of the agency's "corporate knowledge," which he shared with the Port's elected commissioners.

On top of all that, she said Roehl knew how to work a room, especially when members of the public got angry.

"I've seen him bring about calm," she said.

With Roehl's death, a number of projects he started remain unfinished. A proponent of a Freeland sewer study, he was part of an effort to bring an engineering and consulting firm in to do the work. He also leaves behind plans with the Port of South Whidbey to renovate the boat launch at Bush Point. That project is fully funded and is expected to be completed in 2004.

A native of Germany, Roehl grew up in Philadelphia, having come to the United States in 1951. Prior to going into the planning business, he, along with his wife, Jodi, operated a butcher shop and delicatessen and The Loft Restaurant in Greenbank. He was a football coach for Coupeville High School and at one time served on the Coupeville Board of Education.

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