Comprehensive plan will be late, Island County board says

Island County’s 2016 Comprehensive Plan, the object of intense effort for at least three years, will be late, the board of commissioners acknowledged for the first time on Thursday.

The comprehensive plan update, meant to reflect changes and anticipated changes in land use, housing, population growth, water, sewage, parks, schools, parks and recreation, transportation and shorelines over the next 20 years, is due June 30. But it won’t be filed until this fall, Commissioner Rick Hannold, who is also chairman of the board, said Friday.

Even at that, it will not address two topics that have long vexed both the board and the public: housing and rural land use, the commissioners said.

“The county has been saying since 2008 that it would address those issues,” Commissioner Helen Price Johnson fretted Thursday. “We need to hold our feet to the fire on those two issues.”

The new comp plan will, however, address two repeatedly litigated issues that have plagued the county for years: fish and wildlife regulations and the treatment of environmentally critical areas.

Instead of filing the comprehensive plan, the board in June plans to file a “resolution of substantial completion” with the state, attesting that it has earnestly tried to complete the plan on time and giving its expected date of completion, Hannold said. There is no penalty for filing late, he said.

“It’s just been a significant amount of work,” he said. “We’ve had people working on it steadily, but there’s been turnover in our planning department and we were tied up with the Shoreline Management Plan.”

The county approved that plan in November. The commissioners unexpectedly ousted Planning Director Dave Wechner in October 2015, and in February, long-time Principal Planner Brad Johnson left his job.

Commissioner Jill Johnson on Thursday expressed frustration that the comp plan will be late.

“Two years ago we stood up with our planning director and bet him that we would not be done on time, and we’ve given assurances to the planning commission, ‘We’ll make it,’ and we’ve given assurances to the community ‘We’ll make it,’ and this board knew that we weren’t going to make it,” she said.

The state’s Growth Management Act requires counties and some cities to update their comprehensive plans every eight years, ensuring that regulations both keep pace with ever-changing state requirements and reflect local priorities. Island County adopted its first plan in 1998. It completed its most recent periodic review and update in 2005.