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County growth underestimated

Island County isn’t growing as fast as once predicted.

This fact came out in a recent meeting of county officials who are beginning to update population projections, where it was announced that Island County, at approximately 71,000 in population, is about 10,000 people behind the estimates made in 1998 — the year the county approved its comprehensive land use plan.

The new projections will result in adjustments to the urban growth area boundaries on the island by the end of 2004. County officials say they hope that adjusting the boundaries around cities and towns will help move growth toward municipalities.

The goal of the county’s comprehensive land use plan is to achieve an even split between the numbers of people living in and around towns and in rural areas.

The county hasn’t met that goal, as 69 percent of county residents live in rural areas.

Jeff Tate, an assistant planning director for the county, said recent trends haven’t helped the situation. Most of the people who move to Island County want to live in a rural setting. The fastest growing part of the county, Camano Island, is an area devoid of urban growth areas. Camano has accounted for approximately 40 percent of all building permits issued for single-family residences since 2000.

One solution that could help the county achieve an equal population distribution, according to Tate, would be for Freeland to become a non-municipal urban growth area. The area is currently developing a sewer plan.

The county also wants Clinton to become a non-municipal UGA, but Tate said there presently isn’t enough community support for that.

The population update allows the county to base its projection on the recent 2000 Census, a number which gives a more accurate depiction of population than previous information.

The county’s 1998 Comprehensive Plan projected the county’s population to be 81,500 in 2000 and then balloon to 118,000 by 2020. However, the 2000 Census counted the population at 71,558. Now, the state Office of Financial Management predicts the population will expand to something between 80,000 to 108,000 by 2020.

“Clearly things have slowed down considerably,” Tate said about population growth during a recent commissioners staff session.

In an interview after the meeting, Tate said the 1998 comp plan projections were based on the 1990 Census. He said errors in projections on older Census counts can appear after several years.

During the meeting, Tate said the county also has to negotiate some sort of consideration for all the part-time residents in the county because they may not have been accounted for in Island County census data. Tate estimated that 11 percent of the homes in the county are owned by part-time residents. Other counties, like King County, have a rate that hovers around 2 percent.

“People aren’t building weekend homes in Seattle,” said county planning director Phil Bakke during the staff session.

The Island County Planning Commission will hold public hearings about population allocations and boundary adjustment next summer. The population study is the second part of the county’s review process conducted every seven years to ensure county regulations comply with the state Growth Management Act. Throughout the past year, the county reviewed its comprehensive plan. The Board of Island County Commissioners is scheduled to approve any alterations to the plan in December.

After the population update is complete, the county then reviews its critical areas plan — a process scheduled to begin in 2005.

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