Annexing active farmland for growth isn’t way to go

Editor,

I strongly encourage our three Island County commissioners to set aside further investment of time or effort on the Wright’s Crossing proposal to annex 250 acres of active farmland south of the City of Oak Harbor in order to build 1,500 new houses.

First, we appreciate the Whidbey News-Times’ continuing fair and balanced coverage of this major proposal.

Many oppose this proposal and reject the flawed assumptions on which it rests. Proponents argue that the city has run out of available land within its urban growth area to accommodate housing needs; that annexing active farmland is OK because farming is dead on north Whidbey anyhow; and that a major new sprawl of 1,500 houses won’t further aggravate already serious traffic congestion because the developer has offered vague promises of “mitigation” magic.

None of this is true. The city has plenty of land to accommodate projected growth — as was just freshly quantified in December 2016. If you think ag is dead, ask a farmer friend, visit a farmer’s market or just take a nice drive and look around.

And do you really think that building 1,500 houses south of the city won’t seriously worsen our existing traffic bottlenecks, particularly since the big job growth is in northern Oak Harbor at the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island?

Many of us are quite disappointed that the City of Oak Harbor endorsed this proposal, given how out-of-place it is and its many fatal flaws. We believe we can do far better. We embrace a future with aggressive growth densities within urban areas to support thriving downtown economies and a vibrant rural economy — and the essential farmland base it requires.

They are two sides of the same coin of smart growth.

Our three Island County Commissioners are scheduled to decide how to proceed with this on Nov. 7, and all three have stated publicly that they intend to set this aside and focus in 2018 on addressing impediments to building out the available lands within the existing urban growth areas of the City of Oak Harbor — and other municipalities — through strengthened “infill” strategies.

We strongly endorse their approach, believing it squarely hits the nail on the head. Please express your support to each of them for this course.

Annexing active farmland as the Oak Harbor City Council proposed to the county is not the way to go. Say no to Wright’s Crossing and 1950s-style sprawl. Say “yes” to smart growth and a vibrant agricultural present and future. Support the three commissioners’ stated intentions, and let’s lean into the real housing and transportation challenges in the coming year.

William Stelle

Oak Harbor

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