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Growth board sides with county on challenge to Freeland plan

Island County was correct when it picked a population target for Freeland's growth area, a state growth hearings board ruled Monday.

The decision was a setback for Freeland resident Mitchell Streicher, who appealed provisions of the county's Freeland Sub-Area Plan, which designated the South End's commercial center as a non-municipal urban growth area late last year. The Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, one of the state's three-member panels that resolves disputes arising from the Growth Management Act, held a hearing on the appeal in Coupeville on Aug. 21.

Streicher had claimed the county adopted an incomplete plan that set aside too much land as urban, which would invited "institutionalized sprawl." He also protested the inclusion of two 10-acre parcels in the Freeland Hill area near the library, saying they were "not suitable for urban development."

The growth board did not agree.

"The board finds that the petitioner has failed to show that the Freeland NMUGA [non-municipal urban growth area] is oversized for its projected population target," the board said in its Sept. 29 decision.

The board also said the two Freeland Hill parcels cited by Streicher were already characterized by urban growth. Though the land is currently forested and undeveloped, the two 10-acre parcels met the statutory definition of "characterized by urban growth," the board said, because the properties are adjacent to urban, developed land.

"The Freeland Hill area, while currently undeveloped, is characterized by urban growth based upon its relationship to an area with urban growth on it and therefor satisfies the GMA's requirements for inclusion within an urban growth area," the board said.

The county adopted the Freeland Sub-Area Plan in December 2007, and designated Freeland as a non-municipal urban growth area in February. The plan sets out how Freeland — the South End's banking and retail center — would grow to accommodate a population of 4,000 over the next 20 years. Freeland's growth area stretches across 1,061 acres, and the county has estimated that 364 acres are already developed with housing and roughly 231 acres is vacant and can be potentially developed.

To prevail in the case, Streicher had to prove the county was "clearly erroneous" when it adopted the plan. The hearings board said Streicher did not meet that burden of proof.

Streicher has 10 days to ask for a reconsideration, or appeal the decision to superior court.

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