Homola challenges McDowell on growth

Angie Homola -
Angie Homola
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Angie Homola is hoping to change from an outsider to an insider when it comes to planning growth in Island County.

For several years she has been one of the most vocal critics of growth planning by both the county and city of Oak Harbor. Now, she’s trying to unseat Republican Mac McDowell on the Board of Island County Commissioners.

Homola, a Democrat, lives in the West Beach area where farmland is awaiting hundreds, even thousands, of new homes if efforts to enlarge Oak Harbor’s Urban Growth Area bear fruit. To fight back, Homola and other concerned residents created the Swan Lake Watershed Preservation Group to limit growth and protect the shallow seaside lake that catches the runoff from the watershed.

Since hoisting the less-growth-is-better banner, Homola estimates she has put in more than 30 hours a week researching public records, dealing with government agencies and preparing testimony and other input into the planning process.

But she’s seen few results from all her hours of work.

“No matter how hard we try we’re not going to change the people who make the decisions,” she said.

So if she can’t change their minds, she hopes to take their job.

McDowell, a former Navy pilot, has been a commissioner for 16 years during which time Island County has grown rapidly in terms of population and new housing. Homola doesn’t see that as positive.

“The build or bust planning policy of the past 16 years under Commissioner McDowell has resulted in increased taxes, added crime, water availability concerns, burdened emergency services, traffic problems and environmental degradation,” Homola said in her candidacy announcement.

Asked about that comment on Friday, McDowell refuted the charges. He said Island County’s crime rate is the lowest in the state due in part to his support of the Sheriff’s Office through the years.

As for growth, McDowell said “no commissioner can control who crosses the bridge.” He said Island County was the first to fully comply with the state Growth Management Act and the recent update to the Critical Areas Ordinance has been described as a model for others to follow by state officials. “The update has gotten us glowing letters from state agencies,” he said.

McDowell declined to criticize Homola, who he has dealt with frequently. “I don’t plan to slam my opponents. I’ll run on my record and what I’ve done,” he said.

While McDowell boasts about the updated Critical Areas Ordinance, Homola sees no real intent to enforce it. Referring to the county’s hired land use consultant, Keith Dearborn, she said, “Dearborn has his job — finding ways around the CAO so it doesn’t have any teeth.”

Citing utility rates hikes in the city and increasing taxes for residents, Homola said, “Everybody else is paying for development ... don’t just open the doors and say ‘come on in’ to developers.”

Homola, 48, is an architect trained at Washington State University. “My expertise is project management,” she said. She once worked as a plans examiner and building inspector for Island County, and sat on the advisory committee for Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve.

She now runs her own business out of the home she shares with two children, one in middle school and one in high school, and her husband Jerry, a Navy reserve pilot. She has volunteered extensively in local schools, is active with Whidbey Playhouse and helped with the Fort Nugent playground effort.

Besides calling for better planning, Homola is hoping to improve citizen access to public records. “Open government is really a big deal,” she said, citing her frustrating experiences trying to get access to public records. “What I saw changed my life, what the public gets is blank stares.”

If elected, she will work to improve access to records and improve public notification procedures for projects in the works.

She cites her three main issues as accountable government, responsible growth and a sound economy.

“I’m not a politician,” she said. “I just want to do something meaningful. I just think we can do better. I really do.”

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