The following article appeared in the Anacortes American on March 15, 2000.

Fidalgo Island growth belongs in urban, not rural, areas

The Skagit County commissioners have been getting lots of mail - some of it reprinted on these pages in recent weeks - from Fidalgo Island residents who fear county government is ready to loosen the development floodgates on rural Fidalgo Island.

The spate of correspondence stems from a general mistrust of county government arising from the divergent positions the county and the city of Anacortes have taken concerning the Growth Management Act and its implementation on our island. In brief, the county has done just about everything it could do to stymie GMA, while the city has embraced the GMA’s concepts and embarked on a planning strategy to accommodate it.

GMA, in general, seeks to concentrate development in Urban Growth Areas, a defined geography that allows urban services (roads, water, sewers, etc.) to be affordably provided. Concentrating new development in UGAs helps keep down cost of providing services and preserves the rural nature of land outside the UGA. In short, it puts newcomers where people already live, instead of bulldozing forest and farms to provide new homes.

Ironically, it’s the GMA that has made it profitable, seven decades after it was platted as a subdivision, for developers to bulldoze the trees at what will become the Sunset Cove subdivision adjacent to Washington Park. That land is within the Anacortes UGA and has been fair game for developers since the 1920’s. GMA, by making lower-cost rural land unavailable to developers, helped make it profitable to convert that private forest into private residences.

Elsewhere on Fidalgo Island and outside the Anacortes UGA there are property owners who, like the owners of the land that will become Sunset Cove subdivision, had planned to convert their acreage to multiple home sites. When GMA was adopted, restrictions were placed on their land that limited the number of homes per acre they would be allowed to build. Substantial acreage was put into “rural reserve” status, which mandates a maximum of one home on 10 acres, while other acreage was given “rural intermediate” status, one home on two and a half acres. Those densities don’t work too well for some of those landowners, and a few are seeking to change them.

Helping them achieve that goal are crafty passages in the county’s comprehensive plan that includes such phrases as “future urban expansion” and “more intensive rural development” that essentially could pave the way for significant chunks of Fidalgo Island to become more densely populated.

Evergreen Islands, the environmental watchdog group, is leading the protest charge aimed at keeping rural Fidalgo rural, meaning at its currently designated levels. We suspect that a good portion of Fidalgo Island supports that stance.

It is possible that in the hectic drawing of lines that accompanied the drafting of the county’s comprehensive plan whole chunks of acreage were placed in rural reserve without much thought to the longer term implications of such action. If that was the case, and if there are lands that could be more appropriately be designated rural intermediate, the county must identify them and make its case for changing the designation.

But wholesale redesignation of Fidalgo Island’s rural lands to satisfy a demand for urban expansion is out of the question. Yes, given the island’s attraction as a place to live it would be possible to sell every square inch of Fidalgo Island, urban and rural. But that’s neither desirable nor possible, given the goals of GMA and the temperament of islanders.

Let’s face it: The bulk of future growth on Fidalgo Island is supposed to take place inside the Anacortes UGA, not in the rural areas. That’s at the heart of the Growth Management Act, and it makes sense to most of us taxpayers who don’t want to foot the bill to extend urban services to rural Fidalgo Island.

- Duncan Frazier