Town meetings focus on future of Freeland

Dick and Mary Holm study photographs of crosswalks in other communities. The Holms and 25 other Freeland residents met with Otak, the consulting firm hired by the county to develop a conceptual plan for Freeland, to discuss options for Main Street such as crosswalks, sidewalks, lighting, and landscaping. - Gayle Saran
Dick and Mary Holm study photographs of crosswalks in other communities. The Holms and 25 other Freeland residents met with Otak, the consulting firm hired by the county to develop a conceptual plan for Freeland, to discuss options for Main Street such as crosswalks, sidewalks, lighting, and landscaping.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

No to speed bumps as traffic calming devices, and no to a "cutesy" theme for Freeland.

Those were two definite ideas voiced by citizens attending Freeland planning meetings this week. Residents complained that speed bumps are noisy and drivers gun their engines after slowing to drive over the such bumps in the road.

And no one spoke favorably of developing a theme for Freeland like some other small towns in Washington, a la Leavenworth with its a Bavarian village look or Winthrop with its wooden sidewalks and Old West feel.

Business owners, property owners, local residents and government officials met with consultants hired by Island County this week to discuss the future of Freeland's business district.

Island County and its consulting firm, Otak Inc., conducted a three-day series of workshops to gather ideas, input and suggestions on design solutions for Main Street from the intersection with Highway 525 to Scott Road.

Consultants ask what public wants

Otak held the Freeland meetings to generate a vision of Main Street and develop a plan the county can use to move forward. The county hired the consulting firm for $40,000 to develop a conceptual plan for Freeland.

Small groups of citizens met with the consultants during the three-day process, and the input offered will be compiled and presented to the community in a report due out in January 2006.

"I appreciated the opportunity to discuss my specific concerns, said Deb Asplund, owner of the buildings that house Peak Manufacturing, her business Vision Works and an escrow company.

"I really appreciated the graphics Otak used. It was so clean and clear," she said.

But Asplund pointed out that Main Street improvements hinge on the sewer system.

"They need to start this planning now, but none of this will happen until sewers are in," Asplund said.

But even so, the county wants Freelanders to start thinking now about the future of their community.

Otak began each presentation with a slide show of what Freeland's Main Street could look like, followed by a discussion with participants.

What came out of the meetings is as varied as the people who participated.

While views differed, most people agreed that Freeland is not a tourist destination. And many described Freeland as a service-centered burg and a banking community soon to have five banks.

Locals know what they don't want

Many people said they did not want Freeland to turn into a "strip mall" and they wanted the business core to be more pedestrian-friendly.

During the meetings, Otak had easels with photos depicting different elements that could be used in the beautification of Main Street. Audience members were given paper dots -- red for "no" and green for "yes" -- to stick on the photos they liked.

The different elements included different types of pavement, sidewalks, street furnishings, crosswalks and lighting, landscaping and trash bins.

There were pictures of outdoor art, too, with a bronze sculpture in Walla Walla of a life-size dog holding a ice cream cone on its nose. The dog was voted down during the public meeting and in one meeting with several property owners.

Comments included: "Langley has the dog, Freeland doesn't need one."

Popular ideas with most people included benches, trash collection and recycle bins, well-placed landscaping, parking and sidewalks.

About 25 people attended the session.

Lighting for both safety and aesthetics was discussed.

"Lighting needs to be considered. It will provide increased security, but do we want lighting in areas when we don't need it," said Geoff Tapert, a local businessman

There was a suggestion for low-impact lighting like the kind used at Sun Mountain Lodge in Winthrop.

History of Freeland planning

In 1991, Island County hired town hall meetings to discuss the future of Freeland.

Residents agreed at that time that sidewalks and landscaping in downtown Freeland were important.

Planning for future growth and traffic was vital, too. A consultant at the time warned that congestion would increase significantly at Main Street and East Harbor Road.

According to recent traffic studies, that prediction has come true. A recent report study of Main Street showed 6,000 cars a day pass between East Harbor Road and Harbor Avenue.

Some of the other recommendations from those 1991 meetings included upgrading downtown with sidewalks, pedestrian pathways and parking; protecting wetlands and view corridors, and improving drainage.

Once again Freeland is planning for the future.

"The future is happening now. The growth of the community proves it," said Mike Dolan, chairman of the Freeland Vision 2025 committee, a volunteer group headed by the Friends of Freeland and the Freeland Chamber of Commerce.

Freeland has been selected by the county as the primary growth area on the South End. The Freeland Comprehensive Plan is completed and being reviewed by the county planning department. The county funded Comprehensive Sewer Plan for Freeland has been adopted.

Where will Freeland be in the next 10 to 20 years?

"We won't recognize Freeland in 10 years," said Jeff Ambrose, a Freeland resident.

"We don't even know what the possibilities are," he said.

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