EDITORIAL: Towns should grow naturally

The controversy in Coupeville over the fate of Krueger Farm land boils down to the old argument over how to grow — naturally, or through the efforts of developers.

Natural growth results from individual impulses. Someone gets a job in an area, or is impressed while visiting, and decides to move in. They might buy a lot and build a house, or maybe buy a unit in a duplex some local resident built to help boost his retirement income. It’s a low-keyed, minimum impact way to grow. In a town the size of Coupeville, this will result in a handful of welcome new residents each year. It’s pretty much the way things have always been done there.

The other way to grow is to let developers build as many homes as they think they can sell. In certain areas, like Oak Harbor, there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s a huge demand for housing generated by the military that can be satisfied only by big projects. But that’s not the case in Coupeville and elsewhere on Whidbey Island. There, it’s best to grow naturally.

The present zoning for Coupeville’s Krueger Farm allows 120 single-family residences. A change already approved by the Planning Commission would reduce that to 108 housing units, mixing single family with multi-family units, while setting aside more land for open space. Many residents oppose this plan. Not necessarily because they think 108 units is so much worse than 120, but because the 108 units are part of a development plan that could materialize almost overnight once it’s approved by the Town Council. Very few town residents want to grow that fast.

Rather than arguing so much over densities, perhaps Coupeville should look at developments. Limit the number of units any developer can build in a year, or over several years. With the town’s scarce water supply, this makes particular sense. You want to build 108 units in Coupeville? Sorry, that would be unnatural, and besides the limit is three. Try Oak Harbor instead.

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