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New rules designed to help Central Whidbey farmers

Central Whidbey farmers could get a bit of a break from design regulations that are proposed to regulate development in Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

Island County, the Ebey’s Landing Trust Board and the town of Coupeville are currently developing regulations that will affect development and demolition within the reserve, which was formed in 1978.

Farmers were concerned that the new regulations regarding clustered farm buildings would limit their ability to change their farming operations should they need to demolish obsolete buildings and replace them.

As originally proposed, if they have to demolish a structure, they would have to go before a review commission to get a permit.

To streamline the process, language is coming forward outlining an alternative to the design regulations farmers could use. That alternative is to develop a “heritage farmstead plan” which will help farmers assess the condition of their buildings and structures and develop a plan to maintain them.

“The intention behind all of that is to have the greatest amount of flexibility for our farmers while maintaining rural character,” said Mark Preiss, manager of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

He said the farm plans come out of conservations with local farmers and the realization that farms should be treated differently than historic buildings and homes.

To develop a plan, the condition of each farm structure will be assessed. The plan will be used to guide future repairs and for design review decisions, including demolition of buildings, according to a draft of the proposed regulations.

There will also be resources available to help farmers maintain their historic buildings. One of those is the Ebey’s Forever Fund, which was announced in early November and has collected $60,000. That fund provides money for homeowners looking to maintain and preserve their historic structures. Another is the Field School, where volunteers each year undertake a preservation project. Last year, volunteers replaced the roof of a historic barn.

There is some work that needs to take place to refine the farm plan language regarding the minimum size of a building before the design review requirement is triggered, as well as the spacing between buildings to maintain a clustered look, Preiss said.

During a recent meeting in front of the Coupeville Planning Commission, he suggested that the demolition ordinance of the unified regulations be delayed a year to give enough time to work with farmers to implement the heritage plan. However, Town Planner Larry Kwarsick said such a delay could spark a string of demolition applications before the new regulations take effect.

Preiss said that no farmer has come forward saying they want to demolish a building and that officials will have to trust the farmers to continue acting as good stewards of the reserve.

The Coupeville Town Council, the Trust Board of Ebey’s Landing and the Board of Island County Commissioners are scheduled to hold a special meeting Wednesday, Jan. 13, to start discussing the new development regulations that will affect Coupeville and Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. Island County and the town of Coupeville are the entities that have to approve the proposed changes to regulations.

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