Commissioners show impatience with Planning board

A recent work session seemed to highlight growing impatience among members of the Board of Island County Commissioners with the county Planning Commission, especially when it comes to housing.

Part of the county’s comprehensive plan that guides long-range housing policies has been contentious among members of the commission and the public as well.

The update to the housing element, which started last fall, has involved a back-and-forth of recommendations between the planning commission and the board, who ultimately will approve the final document.

One proposed change caused concern over what Commissioner Jill Johnson called a “fundamental lack of understanding of what the housing element does.”

A member of the planning commission asked for language to be included that would allow the element to be reevaluated in between the periodic review, which happens every eight years, if population growth exceeds what was predicted.

“That’s not where that goes,” Johnson said.

There is language in countywide planning policies that can trigger a new buildable lands analysis and, therefore, a re-evaluation of joint planning areas and urban growth areas if population growth significantly exceeds projections from the state Office of Financial Management.

“I just have high hopes that the individuals on the planning commission would have a working knowledge of what is what,” Johnson said.

“I understand what they’re thinking,” Johnson said.

“I think that it’s just from lack of understanding.”

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson asked staff to explain to the planning commission the scope of work involved in opening up a comprehensive plan update.

Later in the meeting, Commissioner Rick Hannold asked how many hours a year the members get formal training.

Assistant Planning Director Beverly Mesa Zendt replied that it’s less than five.

“That’s part of the problem,” Hannold said.

Staff said there are plans to add more training.

The commission also recommended distinguishing between subsidized housing and general affordable workforce housing.

Commissioner Johnson pointed out much of “the general workforce” qualifies for subsidized housing.

Hannold, visibly irritated, said he doesn’t approve of labels at all.

“We have to put a label on everything on everybody to make it special,” he said.

Price Johnson said there are different funding sources for varying housing types and labels.

“I know,” Hannold responded, “because the libs love labels.”

Many of the finer details are subjects that have gone back and forth between the planning commission and the commissioners several times since the update started in the fall of 2017.

“I’m so sick of talking about this; why don’t you go and bring it back when it’s done,” Hannold said to staff at one point in the meeting. “It always ends up being the same thing.

“We go over and over and over and over and over the same things.”

The public hearing on the housing element is to be held at the end of August.

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