Planner grapples with 'Coupeville Paradox'

Coupeville Town Planner Larry Cort has unveiled a proposed growth management plan that seeks to overcome what he dubs “The Coupeville Paradox.”

The plan involves a large portion of currently undeveloped property abutting Highway 20 to the north, near the town’s main entrance. With the blessing of the property’s owner, Cort has devised a unique urban growth area that attempts to maintain at least part of Coupeville’s rural character. In doing so, Cort said he tried to accommodate “people’s respect for the more rural aspect of the area.”

First, however, the paradox: Under the state’s Growth Management Act, passed in 1991, cities are required to create areas and densities that permit the urban growth that is projected to occur for the next 20-year period. As town planner, Cort is faced with the difficulty of helping Coupeville meet its obligations under the GMA when, in reality, large portions of the town exhibit a rural development pattern.

To further complicate this Catch-22 is the fact that Coupeville is the only “urban growth area” in the state totally contained within a unit of the National Park Service, known as Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. Such areas are established “to preserve and protect a rural community.”

New growth area created

Cort’s plan is to scale back a handful of areas currently designated as High Density Residential to Low Density Residential, while simultaneously creating an entirely new growth area that takes into account Coupevillians’ desires to maintain open public spaces and preserve the rural nature of the existing landscape. It’s an ambitious proposal, and one that Cort is eager to float for public discussion.

“We expect the public to begin discussion on this,” Cort said on Monday, though he warned that any official action on the plan is still a good four months off. “There’s lots of work in this,” he added. “The more eyes on this, the better.”

The property under consideration is a 37-plus acre parcel currently owned by Coupeville resident Cecil Stuurmans, located on the north side of Highway 20 between Broadway and North Main streets. Right now, the chunk of land is dominated by a forest of Douglas firs, with First Street running to dirt just about where the property begins. Under Cort’s plan, First Street would continue on through the development, intersecting first with a continuation of Wilkes Street and then with NW Krueger Street, until it met with Broadway at the other end.

The property was chosen for its relative nearness to an area of current urban growth, per se, as well as the availability of adequate public facilities and service capacities.

Plan would preserve trees

Cort’s development plan would preserve a 33-foot wide stand of trees running the middle of the development, part of a total 6.5 acres of slated open space dedicated to the town. The proposed scenario would also create a walking trail and protect Coupeville’s “rural entry” — i.e. the treeline facing the highway — while allowing a diversity of housing units to satisfy the requirements of the town’s Comprehensive Plan.

The total number of single-family dwelling units allowed for under the proposed property plan would be 120, including single-family residences, cottage dwellings (about 8 units per acre) and multi-family apartment complexes and condominiums.

Only 160 single-family residences are needed by the year 2020 under GMA requirements. This averages out to about 8 housing starts per year, which is consistent with the number of starts for the past 4 years, Cort said. If the town council accepts Cort’s proposed amendments to the comp plan, Coupeville will still be left with 559 potential dwelling units.

“We’re well endowed with land and developable areas,” Cort told the town council.

Alternative to current plan

It is Cort’s hope that such a unique proposal for future development, besides being just “good planning,” offers a viable means of circumventing the Coupeville Paradox by presenting an innovative and attractive alternative to the town’s current Comp Plan. The idea is that Coupeville’s projected growth of 345 new citizens by 2020 will be accommodated without jeopardizing the town’s rural and historic appeal. Actually, Cort says the proposed plan might even make room for growth well into the future, perhaps as far as 50 years out.

Cort debuted his proposed development scenario to the Town Planning Commission last Tuesday, with largely positive results. Council member Phillip Williamson said that he was prepared to vote “yes” for the proposal right now.

“I think that it’s a unique document, and it’s absolutely the thing to do,” Williamson said Tuesday. “What I like a lot about it is the mix of dwelling units. It’s high end and low end. We also retain our woodsy look when we enter Coupeville from Oak Harbor.

“I continue to be impressed by Larry Cort,” he added.

In drawing up the plan, Cort said he was guided primarily by the results of the 2001 Coupeville town survey.

“We tried to let the survey results kind of guide what we thought were some responsible changes to our land use program,” Cort said Monday.

Ideas follow town survey

In particular, Cort cites such facts as that 60 percent of respondents to the 2001 survey said they envisioned Coupeville’s future as “a more spread-out community with larger parcels,” and 56 percent said they preferred cluster developments with planned open space as a means of developing existing land tracts. These percentages present a good example of the Coupeville Paradox, Cort said, in that folks’ desires fly against many of the “urban growth” mandates of the GMA.

“There’s just some inconsistencies in what people on the outside are telling us we have to do,” he said. He added that, over the 6-plus years he’s spent as town planner, people’s desire for more open spaces and better historic preservation has grown even stronger. With his new development proposal, Cort feels that he has largely overcome the paradoxes of growth versus the status quo in Coupeville.

“I’ve gained a lot of perspective on how Coupeville fits in state law and what some of our community preferences are,” Cort said. “We’re comfortable with what we have right here, that it fits within the current rules. I’d be reluctant to recommend a lower density.”

More open space saved

The real powerpoint of Cort’s presentation to the planning commission was a “development impact comparison” between the existing development scenario and the one he’s proposing. To whit, the proposed scenario would preserve 6.58 acres of open space vs. 1.65 acres under current conditions; also, open spaces would be construed of large connected areas vs. small, unconnected parcels; the “rural entry” and woodlot character would be maintained; a diversity of housing opportunities are offered with the new scenario, while under existing conditions only single-family residences are planned; and, in the realm of water use, the proposed scenario offers a reduced strain on resources by envisioning a smaller average family size per lot, with less area consumed in landscaping.

“It’s a dynamic document,” Cort said, adding that the scenario provides ample opportunity for accommodating growth and preserving the rustic, bucolic appeal of the town (i.e. overcoming “the Coupeville Paradox”), while also being subject to amendment every couple of years.

Such a plan will require a major amendment to the town’s Future Land Use Map. The Stuurmans’ property would have to be changed from a Medium Density Residential area to what Cort has designated as a “Special Development Area,” all governed by a binding Memorandum of Agreement. Also, Cort proposes that three chunks of property now listed as Medium Density Residential should be downgraded to Low Density Residential.

Cort’s proposed development scenario currently is available for public review. Packets that include maps and proposed amendments to the Comprehensive Plan are available at Coupeville’s Town Hall.

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