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UPDATE: State 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.

“We’re happy to move forward,” Jeff Tate, Island County planning director, said Tuesday. “We’re going to get the people of Freeland in the loop and start talking again.”

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, conducted a hearing on the appeal in Coupeville on Aug. 21.

“I gave up six months of my life to this,” Streicher said Tuesday. “I’m just going to take it easy and forget about the whole thing.”

“I don’t understand their analysis and the county’s analysis,” he added. “But there’s nothing I can do about it. I don’t have the money to go to court.”

Tate said the decision allows the county to continue with its planning schedule, which was delayed about six months by the appeal.

He said the next step is to develop a set of regulations for development, transportation and capital facilities to present to the Island County planning commission next summer.

Streicher had claimed the county adopted an incomplete plan that set aside too much land as urban, which would invite “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 disagreed.

“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 listed by Streicher were already characterized by urban growth. Though the land is forested and undeveloped, the two 10-acre parcels meet 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 during 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 are 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.

“I’m glad it’s over,” Streicher said.

Will he be getting involved in other Freeland land issues?

“Not for a long while,” he said.

Freeland NMUGA Final Decision and Order - Upload a Document to Scribd

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