Freeland’s growth plan 60-day appeal period yet to begin

COUPEVILLE — No one has appealed Freeland’s growth plan since Island County commissioners voted to make Freeland an urban growth area last month, Island County Planning officials said.

COUPEVILLE — No one has appealed Freeland’s growth plan since Island County commissioners voted to make Freeland an urban growth area last month, Island County Planning officials said.

Good news, right?

Not quite, because the 60-day appeal period has not even started yet, said county planning chief Jeff Tate.

In fact, county commissioners still have a bit of work to do before the urban designation is official. They have asked Tate to prepare a set of “findings of fact” which will support their decision.

“It will be before the board of commissioners by Feb. 11 and they will likely sign it. That will be when the 60-day appeal period will begin,” Tate explained.

That means April 10 is the magic date when the appeal period ends.

The timing is important because supporters of Freeland cityhood are anxious to get the incorporation before voters. Incorporation proponents have been considering a ballot measure in the fall, or next year.

Tate said the findings of fact will spell out the evidence that supports the commissioners’ decision to declare Freeland a “nonmunicipal urban growth area,” or NMUGA. Without the official designation, incorporation supporters cannot legally place cityhood for Freeland on the ballot.

“The findings of fact will describe their thoughts, what they talked about when they made the motion to designate Freeland as an urban growth area,” Tate said. “It is their opinion and thought, which really doesn’t have a place in the (growth) plan. The findings of fact justifies their decision.”

Commissioners also asked Tate to develop an implementation plan.

“There are several steps left in this process,” Tate said. “Designating Freeland an NMUGA is step one. It took a long time to get to it, but it is the biggest step.”

The process included putting into writing the concepts, vision and opinions of what people want to see in Freeland’s future, Tate said.

“Step two is to develop a code of development regulations that implement the plan,” he said. “The plan is a policy document versus a regulatory document. Policy documents provide direction on how to create the black-and-white rules of how to review development projects.”

The regulatory side needs to be completed, which includes design regulations, as well as rules for landscaping, setbacks and other details of what projects should look like, Tate said.

Controlling the appearance of commercial buildings is one of the main reasons for incorporation, cityhood supporters have said.

“What they don’t want apparently is for the county to review development proposals,” said Tate. “From their perspective, what I have heard them say is they would like to have more say when a permit comes across our counter of what the development should look like.

“People in Freeland will be involved in developing the regulations,” he added. “Writing the words of the policies and regulations is something the people of Freeland will have a tremendous influence in because they are involved in it.”

Even so, Tate said few people currently take the time to comment on development plans that are submitted to the county.

“We have seen a select few people who comment on proposals and they are the same people who want control of the review process,” he said. “I don’t get this sense that there is this large majority of people who look at permits that have been issued in Freeland and find some level of dissatisfaction.”

Some on the South End are still unhappy with the county’s approval of the gas station at Fish Road and Highway 525, which cityhood supporters have pointed to as one example of the county allowing inappropriate development.

“By far, some people want to review permits because they are dissatisfied with projects that happened a decade ago,” he said. “I haven’t heard anything about new projects. I’ve heard numerous comments from people that they liked how Maple Ridge turned out.”

However, Tate said that nothing major can happen within Freeland without a new sewage treatment system being installed.

“A sewer plant needs to be constructed before any of the urban growth area densities or allowances can be permitted,” Tate said.

Spencer Webster can be reached at 221-5300 or swebster@southwhidbey