Editorial: Be careful in Freeland

The Whidbey Island community of Freeland at the head of Holmes Harbor is like a growth rocket, just waiting for someone to light its fuse.

The Island County Planning Commission lit the match earlier this month by designating Freeland a “non-municipal urban growth area.” But it will be up to the Island County Commissioners to touch the match to the fuse by making the designation official, likely some time next month.

Once so designated, Freeland will be able to put in sewers, storm drains and other urban amenities, as encouraged by the state Growth Management Act. It could even become a city. In theory this makes sense, as the idea is to concentrate growth in areas with appropriate infrastructure. But the commissioners should not light the fuse before knowing that the resulting growth explosion can be contained.

Few if any residents of South Whidbey want to live in or near a boom town. The county should make sure there are limits on commercial and residential building sizes, strict environmental standards, a public design review process, requirements for public paths and views, and other regulations to assure reasonable, well-planned growth. The island needs another growth area outside of Oak Harbor, but the result should be a better Freeland, not just a more congested one.

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