The following article appeared in the Anacortes American, April 12, 2000.

County to rural residents: ‘Don’t be alarmed’


American Staff Writer

A Skagit County planning official said Fidalgo Island’s rural residents should not be alarmed by the county’s proposal to review some rural land zoning, primarily because any changes likely will reflect “a local vision” than anything imposed by outsiders.

Gary Christensen, county assistant planning director, said county planning commissioners are carefully scrutinizing proposed changes, especially those that deal with increased population densities. Further, he said natural and environmental features will play a large role in determining what defines rural, particularly if that is what Fidalgo Islanders say they want.

Christensen spoke at a Quality of Life Forum Wednesday, April 5, at the Dewey Beach Fire Hall, sponsored by the environmental watchdog group Evergreen Islands. Other speakers include Heather Ballash from the state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development; Jeanne Robinette from the Anacortes City Council and county planning commissioner and Del Mar resident Carol Ehlers.

Nearly 60 people packed the fire hall, a follow-up to a larger crowd that met earlier in Anacortes City Hall. This meeting, however was billed as “educational,” geared to provide relevant information on the Growth Management Act; new changes proposed by the county; the city of Anacortes’ point of view and other details. The four guest speakers spoke generally about their areas of expertise, and questions were solicited from the audience on specific points.

What was clear near the meeting’s end, however was that confusion still remains among many island residents and even one speaker - council member Robinette, who is concerned about the impact of the county’s Conservation and Reserve Development ordinance. Dubbed CaRD, the ordinance disturbed Robinette because it seemed to be too flexible in allowing increased population densities, possibly in areas that have no sewer or water services. The GMA doesn’t permit urban services in rural areas, but some property owners south of the city limits want more options on large parcels. Now, some are restricted to one home per 10 acres, while other areas of Fidalgo Island can build a home on 2.5 acres.

Christensen said the CaRD ordinance is being reworked to address fairness as well as the rural environment. He said there is little chance large-scale residential development would occur through a CaRD, particularly when so many natural landscape features would forbid it. As well, the city will not extend sewer services and few have asked it to do so beyond the South March Point area just annexed.

Ballash, who echoed state edicts that say rural areas must remain rural, admitted that communities are still trying to define what that is, and what can be allowed. A new GMA change approved legislatively in 1997, does say that some existing commercial interests and rural “centers” shouldn’t be excluded, and might just serve as future development centers.

That thinking worries some island residents, as well as Anacortes city officials, who fear increased population density means a raid on sewer and water services.

Ehlers, who is still hammering out details with her planning commission colleagues, said a number of issues are being neglected or moved along quicker than she would like. She was especially concerned with special uses, some that would allow inappropriate businesses side by side or others unlimited space to develop industry or commercial uses - at the expense of the island’s rural character. She urged those at the meeting to lobby for more attention to the proposed changes, and also to send letters to the county commission about those areas of concern.

Christensen said having a public voice does have an effect, that several meetings already have produced change and review at the county planning commission level.