Commission questions council priority list

Oak Harbor’s Planning Commission is facing a mammoth list of 32 goals put forth by city council.

The city of Oak Harbor’s Planning Commission is facing a mammoth list of 32 goals put forth by city council.

Development Services Director David Kuhl presented the goal listing at a planning commission meeting Tuesday. City Administrator Blaine Oborn had originally narrowed down the list to 10 goals, but the council voted at an October meeting to set all 32 as priorities.

Council unanimously approved the $250.9 million budget for the next two years on Wednesday, compared to the 2021-22 budget of $242.1 million – an $8.8 million increase. In a statement, Mayor Bob Severns said the increase was due to the inclusion of project priorities.

“This is a huge list of 32 items that we don’t anticipate accomplishing in one year or even in two years,” Kuhl said.

Kuhl told the planning commission that some of the goals seemed repetitive, and he broke them down into eight ranked groups. The first eight included revitalization of the downtown and marina, expansion of the downtown and marina, and repair of sewer and water lines, which Kuhl said was already in process.

Also on the list was Windjammer Park improvements, stabilizing utility rates, planning for future city infrastructure, partnerships with city departments and outside agencies for parks and recreation projects and city employee morale.

“A little over a year ago, maybe a year and a half ago, there were some challenges that some of the city employees had so the council listened,” Kuhl said.

The next group of goals included dredging of the marina, expansion of the joint planning area with Island County, city infrastructure of West Whidbey Avenue, building an accessible playground in the city, increasing public involvement, improving Northeast Seventh Avenue and hiring an economic development coordinator. Kuhl said interviews of the finalists for the position are taking place next week.

The next eight goals included affordable housing, enhancing parks and recreation programs, infill projects, the Harbor Heights sports complex (even though that project is currently on hold) and installing Portland Loo restrooms in Flintstone Park. The old bathrooms in the park have been torn down, but there is no estimated date for when the new bathrooms will be installed.

The last eight goals included creating a community development task force, remodeling city buildings, more top soil for parks and buying two waterfront properties on the corner of Pioneer Way and Bayshore Drive for economic development purposes.

“The city feels like if we get out in front it and we go out and try to buy this stuff, we can make stuff happen, so that’s the city’s goal,” Kuhl said.

Planning Commissioner John Chaszar expressed skepticism that topsoil for city parks was listed a priority.

“This seems like a lot here, 32 goals,” said Planning Commissioner Earl Plumlee, adding he was concerned about the vagueness of goals such as “affordable housing.”

Kuhl responded that specific milestones were not set for a lot of the goals.

Planning Commissioner Sarah Schact raised concerns about public involvement and said she felt that citizen voices are not being heard.

There were no specifics on what the increasing public engagement would mean, and commissioners said they wanted clarification from the council.

“We maybe need to give the staff ideas on how to increase the community involvement,” Planning Commissioner Greg Wasinger said. “Certainly it’s lacking – I mean, it’s pretty obvious.”

Another issue the commission brought up was a perceived disconnect in communication between the planning commission and city council.

“I feel a little disconnected sometimes from the decision making that the council is having,” Planning Commissioner Kristy Southard said.