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Freeland moves one step closer

After six hours of deliberation last Tuesday, the Island County Planning Commission recommended designating Freeland a “non-municipal urban growth area,” effectively eliminating a formidable barrier in the local push for incorporation.

An Aug. 28 planning commission meeting marked the first time the planning department and the public were given a chance to engage in a dialogue with the planning commission.

Extensive public comments were focused on how to improve the plan while none were received that outright opposed the designation of Freeland as an NMUGA.

Additional written input was submitted before the period closed Sept. 11. In the last one-and-a-half months, the all-volunteer planning commission has been inundated with written and oral testimony.

“The planning commission agreed to a marathon session,” said Planning Director Jeff Tate. “They looked at all the issues one by one. They really powered through them.”

Residents have focused primarily on amendments to Freeland’s subarea plan, which the planning commission also agreed Tuesday to incorporate into the county’s comprehensive plan.

The proposed amendments generating the most debate revolved around density on pieces of property like Freeland Hill and semantic concerns.

“They voted to use ‘should’ and ‘may’ in the plan rather than ‘shall’ and ‘must,’” Tate said.

The Growth Management Act allows counties to designate areas of the county as non-municipal urban growth areas with urban services such as sewer and stormwater infrastructure while requiring greater density and commercial development.

The study came about as a result of an order from the Growth Management Hearings Board, which required the county to look at both Clinton and Freeland as candidates for the NMUGA.

The planning commission’s recommendations will be forwarded to the Board of Island County Commissioners, who should ultimately render a decision in November.

“It’s a milestone to get to this point, but this is one event in a series of events,” Tate said of Tuesday’s approved motions. “It’s a very big part, but this hasn’t set up a situation where permits can be submitted. That’s still way down the road.”

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