State hears challenge to Freeland's growth plan

COUPEVILLE — A state hearings board listened to arguments in the challenge to Freeland’s recently adopted land-use plan Thursday, but members of the board said they would not issue a decision in the case until next month.

Freeland resident Mitchell Streicher appealed provisions of the Freeland Sub-Area Plan, which was approved by county commissioners in December and designated Freeland a non-municipal urban growth area.

Streicher said the county disregarded five years of work by a volunteer committee of Freeland residents and adopted an incomplete plan that is in violation of state growth-management laws.

He also said the county put too much land in the plan, inviting “industrialized sprawl.”

And he protested the inclusion of two 10-acre parcels in the Freeland Hill area near the library, saying they are “not suitable for urban development.”

The Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, an Olympia-based body that’s one of three in the state, heard Streicher’s appeal during a four-hour session at the county offices in Coupeville.

If the board sides with the county, Streicher’s next recourse would be Superior Court.

If it agrees with Streicher, it could overturn the adoption of the plan or send it back to the county for changes.

Streicher, who first landed on the island in 1943 during World War II and vowed to retire here, has lived in Freeland since 1996. He said he attended almost all of the nearly 80 meetings concerning the sub-area plan. He made his presentation using detailed maps and graphs.

Streicher said the plan doesn’t comply with growth-management regulations because it deals only with land use and ignores other essential chapters, called “elements,” on issues such as sewers, storm-water management, transportation and funding.

County officials say the plan is only a first step, however, and that additional elements would be put in place as needed.

Keith Dearborn, one of two lawyers representing the county at the hearing, said the Freeland plan is an “interim process” with no clout “until there’s a sewer system in the ground.”

The plan projects a population in the designated 1,061-acre urban area of 4,000 people by the year 2020. But Dearborn said 2,000 people are already there.

“You can’t wipe out those 2,000 people and their houses and business and say they don’t exist,” Dearborn said.

He said in reality the designated urban area “isn’t too large; it’s too small.”

As for the two 10-acre parcels in question, Streicher said according to the plan they would be permitted at least 60 dwelling units.

He said groundwater runoff would create problems in the area and might hurt shellfish in Holmes Harbor.

He also noted there were steep slopes on some of the land, which would make it undevelopable.

William Crittenden, representing Wisdomspace, the owner of one parcel, said the two properties are indistinct from other large parcels in the plan.

He also said it was the county’s job to select or reject parcels, and that Streicher couldn’t “cherry pick” and complain about specific parcels.

Streicher said he chose these two because most of the others were already platted for development.

“The others we can’t do anything about,” he said. “This is something we can do something about.”

The sub-area plan was finally adopted after years of study so that an effort to make Freeland a city could move forward. Incorporation means sewers, however, and when a study indicated that the required system would cost $16 million, the incorporation effort stalled.

“To make Freeland an urban growth area, people need to be talked into approving a sewer system,” Dearborn said. “So far, there’s no inclination to do that.”

County officials chose to make Freeland an urban-growth area because it’s the second largest commercial area on Whidbey Island after Oak Harbor.

With Coupeville predominantly rural and Langley downsizing its growth targets, Freeland was the best place in the South End to designate for urban growth.

“It’s a big challenge for a county to create an urban growth area where none exists,” Dearborn said. “It certainly has been for Freeland.”

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