Commission split 2-1 over expanded planning area

Island County Commissioners disagree over Oak Harbor’s proposal to expand its “joint planning area,” or JPA, boundary.

Commissioners Helen Price Johnson and Rick Hannold are against the proposal, which would include 2,100 acres that extends south of Oak Harbor to the northern boundary of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

Commissioner Jill Johnson voiced support for the expansion.

THE JPA is an area in which both the county and the city of Oak Harbor would be involved in the long-term planning process; it is also a necessary step before land can become an urban growth area.

The county updated its comprehensive plan last year, which included JPA boundaries. Both Price Johnson and Hannold said they felt that work didn’t need to be redone at this time, and the city did not provide enough evidence those boundaries are not adequate for planning needs.

“It’s just not clear to me what the case for that is, or that there’s overwhelming support from Oak Harbor for it” said Price Johnson.

HANNOLD QUESTIONED the intentions of the proposal. He said he thinks it was created to accommodate the Wright’s Crossing proposal.

“If it’s not project motivated, why the urgency to do it right now?” He asked during a work session meeting.

Wright’s Crossing is a proposal for a large-scale development of single-family homes south of Oak Harbor. Including the proposed area in the JPA is a necessary step toward obtaining the needed designations to move forward. The developer applied to be included on the county’s 2018 docket, but the planning commission recommended its exclusion.

The application and JPA boundary are separate items to be considered by the commissioners, who haven’t officially voted on the final docket.

THE EVALUATION of Oak Har-bor’s JPA boundaries is already on the docket as a rollover item from last year because of unrelated discussions with the city, but this proposal could be considered as part of the original item.

Johnson expressed support for potentially moving forward with the current JPA proposal.

“What’s the real harm in a larger area that we want to talk about?” Johnson asked during the meeting. She said the JPA would allow the county and city to “think strategically” about activities such as draining or forest management.

She argued the proposal was less about development and more about designating areas of mutual interest between the county and municipality.

HOWEVER, THE letter to the county states “the basis for this request was the council’s desire for there to be sufficient lands to meet both current and future demands for affordable single family housing.”

Price Johnson said she thinks the proposed boundary could potentially threaten farmland and open space that she would rather see preserved.

Johnson maintained expanding the JPA wouldn’t help the development process because of the many regulatory hurdles faced by the project.

“This is like putting me on a trail to climb to the top of a mountain,” she said. “There are going to be roadblocks to my success that are insurmountable because that’s just the reality of the situation.”

“This step is not a step that gives this project any more momentum,” Johnson later added.

THE DESIGNATION overlays, such as priority growth and auxiliary growth areas, are where Johnson feels the real concern should be, and not the JPA.

While the council might have made the proposal with the Wright’s Crossing project in mind, it is a completely separate issue to her that has more to do with maintaining communication with the city, said Johnson.

“Communication is the key to a good relationship,” she said. “I don’t want to do anything that limits that.”

STAFF FROM planning and community development are evaluating the interlocal agreement between the county and city to determine the full extent of the impact on potential property owners in the proposed JPA.

For instance, as part of the agreement, the city may require developers to sign an annexation development agreement on certain types of permit applications that would prevent the developer from protesting annexation of their property into city limits, should it happen in the future.

Hannold and Price Johnson said they are not convinced the proposal is valid.

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