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Imagine that

Volunteers on Oak Harbor’s Comprehensive Task Force have an interesting vision of the city 25 years from now:

l Families in newer residential neighborhoods will be able to walk from their homes to mom-and-pop grocery stores and small cafes.

l Drivers will no longer have to deal with as many traffic jams on Highway 20 and other major roads when signal lights at intersections are replaced with roundabouts.

l Shoppers will have more choices when the old Copeland Lumber building on the highway is redeveloped into a Target store.

l Developers will plant trees in a large, public area where everyone can enjoy them.

l City limits will have expanded to the south and west to accommodate more homes.

City staff and members of the task force presented these ideas to the public during a workshop Thursday night. Over the last six months, staff members and the task force have been working on potential amendments to the city’s Comprehensive Plan, as directed by state law.

The Comprehensive Plan governs the future growth of the city. It contains goals and policy statements, which guide city codes, plans, budgets and actions by city officials.

“The easiest way to think about the Comp Plan is that it’s a vision,” City Development Services Director Steve Powers said. “It’s a vision of the future of Oak Harbor.”

Thursday, city staff shared many of the highlights of the task force’s recommended amendment with the 20 members of the public who showed up. After the recommendations are finalized, the planning commission will review them, then send them on to the City Council for possible adoption.

Members of the public didn’t have a lot to say about the recommendations. A number of people complained about traffic problems on Highway 20 and argued that little else can happen until that it cleared up.

Resident Scott Hornung pressed the group about revitalization of Midway Boulevard, arguing that new commercial development should “in-fill” this area before it goes elsewhere.

“We should first develop areas in Midway Boulevard,” he said.

In fact, one of the task force’s recommendations is to encourage revitalization of Midway Boulevard by implementing design overlay standards, to include “strong unifying features within the public realm, such as street trees along the entire boulevard, as well as characteristics of high quality human scaled buildings and pedestrian-oriented site plans.”

Senior Planner Larry Cort said one of the most important decisions the task force made is to expand the city’s urban growth area — the land on the outskirts of city limits earmarked for annexation — by nearly 127 percent of the city’s housing needs for the year 2025.

Specifically, the task force recommended to accept requests by the owners of seven properties to include their land in an expanded UGA. In total, the properties zoned low-density residential will have room for 645 homes.

The properties include the large Fakkema farm and a parcel owned by Hillcrest Properties, a corporation with Mayor Patty Cohen as a stockholder.

City staff also led discussion on a couple of issues that the task force hasn’t yet come to a clear consensus on.

Cort explained that there are no sights left within the city that are large enough, and properly zoned, to accommodate a large retail store on the scale of The Home Depot or the Wal-Mart and Albertson’s development.

One solution, Cort said, is to designate new areas for large-scale development that would not involve redevelopment. The site of the abandoned Copeland Lumber building and another site north of town were two possibilities.

Island County Commissioner Mac McDowell, who was in the audience, cautioned against this idea. He said the city needed to be careful about encroaching on the Navy base and driving small businesses out.

“A lot of small businesses would be gobbled up by re-development,” he said.

In addition, Cort said the task force has been toying with the idea of allowing commercial uses within residential areas of the UGA. Before World War II, many communities had mom-and-pop stores interspersed between homes. They were small shops that neighbors would walk to and kids would bike to.

Several residents said they liked the idea, but they were concerned about effects on neighboring property values. They said such concerns would be alleviated as long as people know about the possible commercial uses before they purchased nearby property.

In addition, the task force recommended policies that support a tree banking program. Under current rules, developers have to leave 15 percent of trees when an area is cleared for homes. The problem is that many of these trees end up getting blown over because they are no longer protected by other trees.

Under the proposed policy, developers could plant the trees in a city-owned chunk of land instead of keeping them within a development.

Another recommendation regards roundabouts, the circular intersection designs that are said to be more efficient, safer and cheaper than traffic lights. The policy would bring roundabouts to the forefront of future discussions of changes to intersections.

Community Events, April 2014

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