EDITORIAL: That's right, the plan's a sham

Island County Commissioner Mike Shelton criticized the Langley City Council last week, saying its action in rejecting a development proposal “means the county’s comp plan is a sham.”

The county’s comprehensive plan, required by the state to conform with the Growth Management Act, directs most growth toward existing urban areas. In rejecting a possible 100-lot subdivision just outside the city limits, the Langley council said no to growth in an area clearly marked for growth.

No wonder County Commissioners Shelton and Mac McDowell expressed alarm over the decision. The county plan took years and several million dollars to produce. In return for less development in rural areas, the plan promised more development in urban areas. Politicians, professional planners and civic activists agreed this was a jolly good idea. Even developers went along, thanks to the promise of dense urban housing projects to be undertaken in the future.

Unfortunately, the “people” sat out the long, arduous, boring, planning process. They were fine with less development in rural areas, but were mute about more development around Langley and Coupeville. After all, it was all academic. Until someone actually proposed something, that is.

When that happened in Langley, the people hit the fan. Turns out nobody wants large developments on Whidbey Island outside of the Oak Harbor area, whether they’re allowed in the plan or not. It shouldn’t have been a surprise. Every opinion survey ever done has concluded that islanders want to preserve the island’s “rural character.” That can’t be done with big housing projects, as even Langley and Coupeville are considered “rural” in the minds of local residents.

So Mike Shelton was correct. The county can’t deliver on planned high densities around Langley and Coupeville because of the public uproar sure to ensue. Langley City Council was simply following the will of the people, which is still no sin in this country. But it does make the comprehensive plan a sham.

The county commissioners can still encourage the Langley development through the county permitting process. But who wants to buck the people? Nobody who wants to get re-elected. It might be wiser to just learn to love our sham plan.

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