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Process to update long-awaited Freeland development regulations begins

After years of envisioning growth rules for the Freeland Subarea Plan, Island County is moving closer to laying the framework of its long-awaited development regulations.

The Island County Planning Commission met Monday and discussed criteria that will determine how the non-municipal urban growth area (UGA) develops in the future. The hope is to implement rules that will retain Freeland’s “village” character and create a pedestrian-oriented village center. County architects of the document are also making clear that incorporation isn’t part of the plan.

“It’s an urban growth area, but it’s not going to be a city,” said Beckye Frey, a senior long range planner with the county.

Freeland was designated a UGA years ago but its development rules were never updated and currently reflect those of a rural area of intense development, also known as a RAID. With an urban designation, residents and business owners in the area can expect some changes.

“There’s definitely some choices that are going to be available; we’re definitely encouraging some alternative housing styles,” Frey said.

The density allowed per acre will increase.

For example, a medium-density district is proposed to allow five to 12 dwellings per acre. Under the new rules, cottage-style housing would also be an option instead of just one large single-family dwelling on a piece of land, she said.

The development rules will also make zoning more flexible and responsive to the market, Frey said. If the proposed changes are implemented, the review process for zoning permits will be faster and easier.

The Planning Commission also wants to be able to provide options for how buildings can look in the business village to avoid all of the buildings being constructed in the same style but to maintain a degree of predictability.

“I don’t know a lot about Freeland, but it’s a new ballgame so to speak, and some flexibility is needed,” said Val Hillers, a member of the Island County Planning Commission.

The Planning Commission is dependent on the public being involved in the process to ensure the criteria reflect the community’s vision for Freeland, Frey said.

During Monday’s meeting, a few members of the public raised concerns over the proposed criteria.

“I’ve been jumping out of my seat with frustration during this last discussion, because all these wonderful points that have been made concerning Freeland, (it’s) terribly, terribly important that zoning include critical areas,” said Marianne Edain, a representative of the Whidbey Environmental Action Network (WEAN), an environmental advocacy group.

Steve Erickson, also a member of WEAN, asked for wildlife corridors to be a priority.

Frey said she and other planning staff have looked at addressing such concerns, but some of them might be more appropriate to approach at the site plan level or with public works. Over the next weeks staff will be working to create zoning criteria to eventually present to the Island County Board of Commissioners.

Freeland’s code will be discussed at the next planning commission meeting on Sept. 11.

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