The following article appeared in the Anacortes American, Wednesday, March 8, 2000.

Rally draws crowd, but density question unresolved.


American Staff Writer

About 240 people came to a self-described rally to block further study of zoning changes on south Fidalgo Island, but it is unclear how various parties will try to carve out some equity for all Fidalgo Islanders.

The rally, sponsored by the citizen-based group Evergreen Islands, was formed to garner support to block a Skagit County planning study. South Fidalgo Island is among several “study” areas county planners will review, especially because property owners say their land was downzoned without due process.

County planning director Tom Karsh has conceded in recent conversations that the county might have been too hasty in labeling larger island parcels as rural reserve, which allows only one home per 10 acres. Previously, land was zoned rural intermediate or one home per 2.5 acres.

Ken Howard, who owns 39 acres on Rosario Road, said a group of homeowners who own parcels sized at 20- to 50-odd acres, loosely congregated in the Trafton Lake area, have asked for redress. Much of that has occurred through The Association of Skagit County Landowners, with Howard as its current president.

But Evergreen Islands is skeptical about the proposed study, fearing and increased density on the island that will overwhelm the natural beauty and thin soils that refuse to perk. At the Tuesday meeting last week, EI president Steve Clark said the group will hold the county to the 1997 standard, which locks in Howard and some others to larger parcels that won’t allow more homes.

Still another opinion prevails, that of Anacortes city officials who say they don’t trust the county’s attempt to re-jigger the 1997 population totals and plan to increase “urbanization” at the island’s expense.

But, ironically, city officials guardedly back Howard and some landowners’ views, saying one house per 10 acres might be too punitive for some on the island. City planning director Ian Munce said the city always has supported a one house per 2.5-acre stance, and it plans to stick to that. He repeated it at the meeting last week, one that also had county commissioner Bob Hart speaking to the crowd stuffed in City Hall, for at least 20 minutes.

Hart, in his comments to those for and against the study, said he saw little change ahead because of the island’s terrain and the firm opinions of the Growth Hearings Board. But Hart also waffled on some of the current wording in new county planning documents, some of which has alarmed the city because it seems to indicate and end-run around previous growth management agreements among the cities. Anacortes Mayor Dean Maxwell said at the meeting. He delivered an emotional speech, emphasizing the rural character of the island and his vow to keep it that way.

To that end, Howard said Maxwell was talking to island homeowners to find “common ground” for further talks on the issues. As well, Munce is seeking some clarification on the muddled language in the county’s proposed study changes - some of which is considered unreadable.

In any case, more change will likely occur because EI managed to crowd all the parties into City Council chambers, rather than just mounting a campaign aimed at blocking planning studies. Besides, county planners already negotiated with the land-owning groups to do exactly that, and planning director Karsh said those homeowners should have that opportunity.

But Clark and Evergreen Islands members and supporters, who were in the majority at Tuesday’s meeting, are not so sure. Their suspicions are divided fairly equally, between county planners who say they have repeatedly failed to do their job in the past and south Fidalgo Island homeowners, some of whom can’t wait to bring in more housing than the island can support.