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Island County sees support in Freeland

A proposal to designate Freeland a “non-municipal urban growth area” has only met with community support thus far, county officials say.

Approximately 20 people provided testimony Aug. 28 at an Island County Planning Commission public hearing in Freeland. About 80 to 100 people attended the hearing.

“No one got up and testified or has written public comments suggesting that Freeland shouldn’t be a NMUGA,” said Jeff Tate, planning director. “Instead, comments were focused on the content of the sub area plan. That’s encouraging for us.”

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. Clinton residents wanted no part of it and the county’s full attention turned to Freeland.

The Aug. 28 hearing was the first time the planning department and the public were given a chance to engage in a dialogue with the planning commission, Tate said.

Within the proposal is a comprehensive plan for Freeland which includes plans for sewer service and stormwater provisions. BHC Consultants has reviewed the plan and the county’s environmental impact statement. Representatives from the Seattle firm presented their recommendations at the hearing. The one issue that raised the ire of residents was semantic. They suggested changing the word “shall” to “should” in each case the former appeared.

“People weren’t happy about that, but that’s what you see in the sub area plan,” Tate said.

Residents were also concerned with two specific pieces of property where they felt the density was set too high or the zoning was commercial and not industrial.

“That’s all great public debate and dialogue,” added Tate, who was pleased with the results of the hearing.

Although there has been a local push for incorporation, Tate said most people seem to be aware that the NMUGA designation is necessary before incorporation can take place. The former assistant planning director, who was recently appointed director after Phil Bakke’s appointment to the Board of Island County Commissioners, said he saw representatives from both sides of the fence in the audience, but they focused on the issue at hand.

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