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More ‘nimble’ rezones sought

Oak Harbor may change the way that property, especially a small parcel, can be rezoned.

At a City Council meeting next Tuesday, July 3, elected officials will consider a proposed ordinance which would change the process of rezoning property in the city. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

Currently, the only way property can be rezoned is through a change in the Oak Harbor Comprehensive Plan. The new ordinance would create a quasi-judicial process which would require a specific development proposal for the subject property.

City Attorney Phil Bleyhl explained that a quasi-judicial process would have several advantages over the current system. He argues that the process would promote greater public awareness and public input because it has stricter requirements for notifying neighbors of the property being considered for rezone.

“These are the people who should be told, ‘Hey, this is going to change zoning boundaries that may affect your property,’” he said.

In the current system, residents may not be as likely to be aware of changes in land-use designations being considered in the lengthy and more complicated process of amending the comprehensive plan.

Another advantage of the quasi-judicial system, Bleyhl said, is it allows the city to negotiate with a developer to require certain conditions with a rezone. For example, the city could require a developer to put up a large fence to lessen the impact of a project on the surrounding neighborhood.

Under the comprehensive plan process, the city couldn’t require any conditions on a future development.

But the change in the rezone process would also benefit developers, especially small businesspeople. It would be a quicker, “more nimble process,” Bleyhl said, that would benefit small businesses that can’t afford to wait around a year for a zoning change. The proposed rezone would go to the planning commission and then to the City Council meeting for a final decision.

The comprehensive plan sponsored amendment process for land-use changes, however, won’t go away. Bleyhl said rezone requests for zoning changes of large parcels probably wouldn’t qualify under the quasi-judicial system and would have to be part of a comprehensive plan amendment process.

Reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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