Commissioners have questions about city request

Island County commissioners want more answers from the City of Oak Harbor before they are willing to move forward on its request to expand the borders of its joint planning area or JPA.

The JPA identifies areas of “mutual interest” between the municipality and county and also can be the first step in an area being designated for urban growth and annexed into the city.

At a meeting Wednesday, commissioners discussed a letter submitted by Mayor Bob Severns to reconsider its request for an expansion. The city council submitted a request to amend its JPA boundaries in 2017, which the commissioners tabled for discussion at a later time in favor of other projects.

“I don’t see any harm in staff-to-staff communication to understand the intention,” Commissioner Jill Johnson said at the meeting. “I think there are some questions that need to be answered in that staff discussion process.”

Her questions included what the “demand” was for an expanded JPA, why the particular land is being considered and what benefit the city sees in it. The proposed border would encompass over 2,000 acres around the Highway 20 corridor to the border of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

An Oct. 4 letter from the city council asking the county to consider the expansion identified the inclusion of Boon Road within the borders as a benefit, because it “provides important access from the south to the City’s west side.

The letter also said the proposal “provides maximum planning flexibility for both the county and city.”

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson questioned the timing of the proposal. She said county planning staff is already engaged in time-consuming projects, such as updating rural area regulations and Freeland’s subarea plan.

Price Johnson expressed concern over stretching staff too thin with too many policy discussions happening simultaneously.

“Perhaps I’m missing something, but I don’t see where the sense of urgency for what has significantly changed for that jurisdiction to request additional county resources to be redirected back to engaging with them on this,” Price Johnson said.

“I’m open to it, once we’ve satisfied the work that we have on our existing work plan.”

Oak Harbor JPA revision is an item listed on the planning and community development work plan, and its status is listed as “resume discussions in 2018 as time allows.”

Commissioner Hannold said he would support initial discussions on the topic as long as they weren’t “project-specific.”

Hannold had previously said he wouldn’t support a separate request by the city to amend its urban growth area because it seemed to be made to accommodate a development project proposed south of the city.

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