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Freeland named as urban growth area

Satisfied with the transition plan ready to accompany Freeland’s designation as a “non-municipal urban growth area,” the Board of Island County Commissioners removed the final barrier Tuesday.

The designation will eventually lead higher densities and more growth for the unincorporated community situated on Holmes Harbor.

The commissioners adopted the Freeland Sub Area Plan and approved the NMUGA designation Dec. 10, but requested a “findings of fact” document from planning staff that outlined the next step for the prospective municipality and what measures needed to be put in place.

“This is really the last step in the process of designating Freeland an NMUGA,” said Planning Director Jeff Tate.

The Sub Area Plan is a policy document that guides the creation of development regulations, which are used to evaluate site-specific development proposals.

The board reaffirmed its earlier decision with Tuesday’s unanimous vote, triggering a 60-day appeal period. Any appeals will go before the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board. Tate said the core issues involved with designation have not met with negative feedback thus far. The only comments have been peripheral and not substantive.

“That’s a pretty good sign,” the planning director said.

During the appeal period, county staff will go through anticipatory steps but refrain from forging ahead with quick action.

“You don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself,” Tate said.

The next step for Freeland will involve setting rules and regulations. Planning staff will now start contacting professionals who, in the past, expressed interest in helping draft the document that will ultimately guide the NMUGA’s future.

“We’ll talk to landscape architects, builders, people with expertise in the construction,” Tate said. “The group that develops the rules will be a Freeland group. We’ll be getting ahold of those people during the next 60 days.”

The regulations will add specificity where only broad strokes currently exist.

“It will address how buildings should look or whether to have sidewalks,” the planning director added as examples.

The regulations will serve as a standard against which each proposed project can be held.

A draft proposal of the regulations will be formulated by county staff and the group of Freeland professionals by Sept. 1, at which time public hearings will be held. The county commissioners will vote on the proposal Nov. 1.

Before changes can be implemented, the planning commission, and then the county commissioners, must sign off on amendments to the county’s comprehensive plan that address housing, capital facilities, utilities, transportation, economic development, parks and recreation.

The amendments will go before the commissioners late next year.

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