Development regs for Freeland near end of ‘long tunnel’

Freeland development regulations don’t make for catchy, sensational headlines— yet the topic has come up in almost 10 articles in the Whidbey News-Times in just the last two years.

And there have been even more in the decade before that.

Creating the development standards to go with Freeland’s sub area plan has been one of the most community-involved projects senior Island County Planner Beckye Frey has ever done. On May 21, county commissioners are expected to officially set a final public hearing date on the document for June 18.

“We’re just coming down to finally seeing the end of that really long tunnel,” Frey said.

What made the project unique is that it involved building “from-scratch” code from the ground up. It also was designed to be driven by the people who live in Freeland. Beckye said the county made a commitment early on that it wasn’t going to “impose” its vision for growth in the non-municipal urban growth area.

“On the spectrum of engagement, it’s way beyond just involving or information or even collaboration,” Frey said.

At least a dozen workshops were held in the last two years, in which the public provided feedback and suggestions. These comments were used to make standards for lighting, signage, buffering and other development to create more of an identity.

County commissioners designated Freeland as a non-municipal urban growth area in 2007, with the idea that the island’s commercial and retail district seemed a natural place to encourage growth under the state Growth Management Act.

Staff and local steering committees began drafting regulations in 2009, but the work kept getting postponed.

Frey came onto the scene about four years ago and has been entrenched in the project ever since. She’s published three drafts since 2017, seeking out and incorporating extensive public comment on each one. With adoption approaching, she’s now working on educational materials to make the code and its effect even clearer.

The design standards are meant to keep the area pedestrian friendly and maintain a “rural village character.” However, the changes won’t be immediately apparent. The standards will only apply to new developments and major renovations.

Frey said she’s personally excited to finally make the last push across the finish line, but she’s more happy for the people who live there that have been engaged with this since the beginning.

“I think the community is ready,” Frey said.

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