County aims to keep land-use decisions local

As the state tries to create planning guidelines for development near military installations, Island County commissioners want to ensure land-use decisions remain under local control.

During a work session Wednesday, the board of commissioners told Planning Director Hiller West their input for the creation of the state Department of Commerce’s guidebook on military and community compatibility.

“We want to make it clear that land use decisions are very local decisions,” said Commissioner Jill Johnson.

The guidebook is meant to provide information on compatible land use and technical guidelines for professional planners in communities near military installations.

West said at the meeting that it’s still unclear what, if anything, will be required of local governments and what will be optional.

West is the Island County representative for the project’s advisory committee, which also includes military planners and liaisons and stakeholder representatives.

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said from what she’s seen of the project so far, it focuses only on how communities can avoid interfering with military operations but not on how expansions in operations impact surrounding areas.

“That needs to be addressed in this guidebook, because that is a reality of military activity in Washington state,” Price Johnson said. “… It needs to be a two-way street in compatibility.”

As an example, she said military studies on housing availability need to accurately reflect the impact of large increases in the base population.

Price-Johnson indicated the last study done by Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, which is in the process of being done again, “didn’t reflect reality.”

West said he would like the guidebook to include resources and options for mitigation of impacts, which so far he said hasn’t been discussed.

The three commissioners agreed that while they have preferences for how the discussions go, they recognize military decisions are made at a federal level, and their input only goes so far.

“The Navy’s going to do what it needs to do, and we’re going to do what we need to do,” Johnson said.