Planners predict county growth by 2036

Island County finally has a long-term growth plan for the 9,452 additional people and 2,031 new jobs expected by 2036.

Required by the state’s Growth Management Act of 1990, counties must periodically peer into the future 20 years and make adjustments to urban and rural boundaries based on projected growth. The law requires urban areas be sized adequately to “accommodate urban population and employment growth projected for the next 20 years and cannot be larger than necessary.”

In other words, plan for growth. Don’t just sprawl.

Island County looked at land use in Langley, Freeland, Oak Harbor and Coupeville. Called a Comprehensive Review, it helps government officials make decisions on infrastructure, such as utilities, sidewalks and transportation.

“This is our guiding document for land use planning,” assistant planning director Beverly Mesa-Zend told Island County commissioners last week before the new plan was approved. “But it’s a living document. It’s not a plan we’re going to put on the shelf and say ‘we’re done.’ We’ve learned to be more flexible so we can accommodate changes.”

According to the 2010 census, 62,845 people live on Whidbey Island. It’s projected to grow 13 percent to 71,2937 by 2036. Camano Island could see a 6 percent increase to 16,623 from 15,661.

Oak Harbor’s growth is projected to jump the most — by 17 percent to 25,822 from 22,075; Freeland will see a 12 percent growth to 658 from 514 while Langley increases 9 percent to 1,127 from 1,035. Coupeville, which is restricted in its type of growth because of Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve status, will grow 8 percent to 1,975 from 1,831.

After more than three years of study and holding some 180 public meetings to explain boundary, zoning and other land issues, Island County long-term planners presented the 2016 Comprehensive Plan to the three commissioners, who passed the plan unanimously.

Only two people addressed the county commissioners during the meeting. Both complimented the process of listening to concerns and making appropriate changes in the final document.

But the public has had plenty to say. More than 1,000 comments were received about the growth plan over the past three years, planners said.

Usually, growth management changes invoke contentious comment until the bitter end, remarked Keith Higman, director of the public health department who served on the comprehensive planning team.

“It’s a reflection of the quality of the process itself and that we had so much community involvement,” Higman said.

Because growth had been over-projected in Langley and Freeland during the last comprehensive review in 2008, boundaries called Urban Growth Areas were reduced. Freeland saw the biggest change; reducing its urban zoning by almost half.

The re-sizing occurred because the recession affected population projections, and the state requires that cities be planned as “right-sized and not sprawling,” explained long-term planner Beckye Frey.

“The recession changed everything,” she said. “It is market conditions that really determine growth.”

A mixed residential-commercial zone that includes a “walkable core area”could be in Freeland’s future.

Under a 2010 subarea plan adopted in 2010, Freeland is divided it into six land use designations that include two residential areas, an area of mix use, an industrial area and two business areas.

Changes approved in the comprehensive plan mean some property owners saw their lots change in zoning status, such as from rural residential to just plain “rural.”

Additionally, property owners who could have subdivided their land under previous status will not be able to under rural zoning. Planners said they gave property owners plenty of notice about the changes.

“The county personally notified all the property owners by mail and we sent invitations to the workshop. They should be well aware of what’s going on,” Frey said.

The change in designation could lead to some country versus urban neighborly squabbles.

“Like you can’t put your pigsty next to my window,” Frey joked. “And we did hear some concern about chicken coops.”

Freeland, which is not incorporated as a city or town, is under county jurisdiction and known as non-municipal urban growth area. Reducing its growth area wasn’t as easy as redrawing boundaries in Langley, which has city limits as an incorporated city.

“We had to re-size [Freeland] but we didn’t have a logical spot to reduce it,” Frey said. “It took one-and-one-half years of public discussion to get to where we are today.”

Commissioners said next year they plan to discuss land development issues surrounding the city of Oak Harbor, and they will also focus on concerns of agricultural landowners.

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